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Reading Aloud 2

FOREWORD

« D.C.K.’s second Folio is the continued story of a woman determined to raise her family to gentility, respectability and social security, herself being the very antithesis of these qualities.
These pages speak for themselves, but should any single message emerge, it could only be expressed in the words of Elisabeth Bowen: ‘A remorseless interest in emotional truth’.
Will jesting Pilates wait for an answer? »
Claude d’Esplas

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Reading Aloud 2

Parish Councillors in general and one in particular

We have a number of Parish Councillors, all of them interesting personalities managing communal affairs in the best way possible, lending their ears to complaints, suggestions or whatever of their parishioners whose welfare, happiness and general satisfaction is their heartfelt concern. After all, most of them want to be re-elected.
They spare no trouble to determine which place exactly is the best for the village bench donated by a generous sponsor and apply themselves to all sorts of petty, really, I suppose, but on the other hand important business, like the height of somebody’s neighbour’s hedge and other matters. They are always eager to listen to one and mostly give a favourable opinion on one’s comments. Some are optimistic about being able to help, others are more wary, but always show good will. Such was Mrs Rivers’ experience with one of them who said that of course it was in his power to remedy a certain situation.
However, nothing happened much to her annoyance. What a worthless fellow! Needing to assert himself, no more. She didn’t care for being treated like that!

Some of them are managers in their professional lives, one in particular who manages an estate and lives in a house with a French name.
Part of the estate he is responsible for is the small piece of woodland next to our house, this lovely little wood just right for everyday purposes, a twenty-minute-walk through it and back first thing in the morning or after tea. Exercizing ground for our dog who uses it freely. A convenient source for firewood picked up from the ground, of course. Quite a few people from the village go there for walks and sometimes the pupils from the nearby school use it for their cross-country runs. We keep an eye on this wood because we have become quite attached to it. There are vandals cutting down young trees, an affair I personally investigated, or youths throwing knives at trees. Rubbish is dumped in it such as car batteries, mattresses, etc. which we have helped to remove, and motorcyclists use it for cross-country practise.

When I saw the Manager for the first time one morning as I was about to enter the wood, I was overcome by a bad conscience. Something told me that this gentleman who had parked his Landrover by the side of the wood just where access was easiest must be the Manager. I knew it from a distance, but felt I couldn’t turn round really, it would have looked so silly.
He must have sent out vibrations of some kind which hit me : the way he stood, the way he looked, something in his physiognomy, his sleek hair, his steely eyes, his strong nose; not a big person by any means; wiry; good at handling a whip, I imagine, in agricultural surroundings, of course, with horses about the place.
I approached him bravely, bent under the barbed wire, the reason for my bad conscience being that the public footpath was far from where I was, and half expected to be called to task. He didn’t, just looked at me in a calm and cool manner. I moved on, feeling a bit embarrassed and then saw that his attention was taken by motorbike tracks. I seized the opportunity to distract him from my own trespassing by reporting that I had only recently seen motorbikes race through the wood. He inquired where I lived, immediately next door, he was interested to hear, and asked me to let him know any registration numbers I might be able to take. This request was accompanied by a steely-eyed look. I thought to myself “for heaven’s sake I shall never do that” and said aloud “alright”. I could then proceed on my way without further questions being asked. After this little incident I didn’t see him again for years.

There has never been a sign of the wood being used by its owner in any way at all, and although there is only the one footpath, people tend to use it all over. As a result there are plenty of “unofficial” paths. This must have been going on for years. One day I discovered something that made my hair stand on end. There was a fair-sized uprooted cherry tree overhanging one of the main “unofficial” paths and leaning on a beech tree on the other side. This beech tree showed signs of advanced rot just where the other tree rested on it some five yards above the ground. It was visibly a matter of time when both trees would come down right across the path. This discovery upset me very much. I wrote a letter to both Owner and Manager, asking them to please defuse this time-bomb. My daughter handed the letter to the Owner.

A few days later I saw the well-known Landrover at the side of the wood. The Manager was no doubt inspecting the tree in question. I told the children to hurry up, it was time to go to school, I always accompany them through the wood, but one of them had forgotten to clean his shoes, the other one to pack up her games kit, and when we eventually left the house the Landrover was gone. I was disappointed not having been able to speak to the Manager. In retrospect I must say that it was probably better that way.

The day after I could hear from our garden a noise in the wood. Heavy machinery seemed to be at work and a tree was coming down. I felt triumphant. Fancy what a simple letter could do! When the noise had stopped I went with the children to inspect the work. Great was my disappointment when I found that the tree in question was still in its usual place. But two or three other trees had been felled and taken away, presumably the Manager had wanted some firewood. I waited a few more days, obviously nobody owed me an explanation, and then got onto the phone.
The Manager spoke in this cool, calm manner that I knew. He had no obligation whatsoever to take down this tree, he said. The public had no right to go there and that was it. I could see his point and told my children to watch this tree carefully.

Two or three months later they came home one Sunday morning after having fetched the newspaper, shouting triumphantly ‘the tree has come down’! It must have happened during the night under the impact of severe storm and rain.
At the moment we’re busy sawing it up, every day a piece. Good exercize. Other people do the same. There’s enough for everybody.

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Reading Aloud 2

The Dog

He is his master’s most faithful servant. Some mornings he seems to be able to read his master’s mind or even better, my husband claims the dog knows before him when he will be taken on a jog.

My husband is still in bed and wondering what he should do : go for a run or practice the piano or have a cold shower and start on his chores or what other choices there are. The dog knows what my husband is going to do. He is waiting patiently and attentively outside our bedroom door. The door opens and it’s only me. He wags his tail for me and doesn’t budge. I take about ten minutes in the bathroom. Coming back out, the dog is still there with bright eyes in his original position. I return to the bedroom, finding my husband still in bed, trying to come to a decision. He decides in the end to get up.

Opening the door, he gets an overwhelming greeting. It forces him a step back into the bedroom. There’s whining, prancing, jumping, yapping and a lot of tail-knocking against the walls which sound thin, of course, they’re interior walls. My husband eventually manages to make his way into the bathroom and back within a short time. He announces his intention to go for a run. I don’t think the dog has heard it, he is so busy chasing up and down the stairs in joyful anticipation. My husband gives an amused and pleased smile and coming down the stairs in his sportswear can hardly control the excited animal. There’s still the job of putting on his shoes. The dog doesn’t leave his eyes off my husband and is one hundred per cent to attention. ‘Sit!’ and he sits. ‘Lie down!’ and he does, ready to shoot off instantaneously as soon as his master makes the slightest move towards the door.
My husband takes the lead, just in case, and that’s the final signal. The dog’s gone and my husband kisses me bye-bye, wishing he could get me so excited sometimes. What does he do to the dog that he doesn’t do to me, he wonders, and he has an idea. Smiling mischievously he asks me : ’Would you like to go for a run???’ No harm in trying, I suppose.

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Reading Aloud 2

Mrs Rivers

Pension day yet again and I went to see Mrs Rivers.
She told me about a group of Parish Councillors who had been to see her for some reason or other. One in particular had caught her attention. Not in a favourable way, mind you, for he wouldn’t stop talking. ‘Fancy insisting on holding the floor all the time!’ She was indignant and I could see why. Everybody should have a chance! And she went on and on, from Parish Councillors to Iceland to musicians to family business to food problems, and so on. I could hardly get a word in.

Eventually she asked my opinion on her herb tea. She had served me a cup of that, her own produce, made up of herbs from her garden. A vegetarian friend of hers had given her the idea. She had taken a bit of everything and as a very individual touch had added a … geranium leaf, a scented geranium, please. She had no idea what sort of condition her tea would be good for. Neither did I. She did think it was better than ordinary tea. ‘I’ve become converted to herb tea,’ she chuckled. ‘Normal tea is really not at all good for you,’ she went on. She had quite reversed her opinion from a few years ago when she first knew me and asked me surprized: ‘What’s wrong with tea?’ I was into herb tea then.

What did I think about the flavour of her herb tea, she wondered. Did the geranium leaf have an impact after all? Some herb teas can taste of straw, she told me. I was thinking to myself that this was a remarkable comparison and said that hers tasted very nice, a blend of flavours, I couldn’t really tell which was which. Her vegetarian friend had praised it, too, she said and questioned me about this famous Dr Nessie who used nothing but herbs in his therapy. Did I know what herbs exactly he used and what they were good for? I was afraid I couldn’t give her much information, being somewhat out of touch with Dr Nessie.

Soon after leaving her I began to develop a headache. I didn’t think it was the herb tea. I did try a cup of normal tea to see if that made any difference. It didn’t.

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Reading Aloud 2

Aldous and his wife

I had had a break from them for quite a while and my spirits had recovered. I therefore asked my husband, would he like to see them. He said ‘yes’ and I rang them up to invite them. Aldous’ wife who answered the telephone was delighted and relieved, I suspect, because I probably sounded my normal self. They would never break away from dear friends, she said, and wouldn’t it be lovely to see us.

We had a fire going when they arrived and spent a relaxed evening together. First of all they told us about their recent holiday and all the food they’d had, too much, she said, you’d get a big hump after a short time. They apparently hadn’t felt like eating for a day or two after their return. Apart from eating they’d done a lot of walking. I named a place in the area where somebody I knew lived. That wasn’t a nice place, she said, she didn’t like it. Much nicer where they’d been. The most beautiful part in fact of the whole country. An absolute must. She couldn’t wait for us to go there. I suppose we shall do in the end. We had followed her advice to visit another part of the country, also the most beautiful one, a few years ago and have been going there ever since.

We talked about newspapers, acid rain and the Prime Minister being mobbed by angry Norwegians : brand-new power stations in our country without anti-pollution devices! All the pollution blown to Norway! Aldous said he was ashamed of being the nationality he was, his wife said she was too, and ended up by discussing art. Aldous introduced the subject by comparing pop-music to ‘degenerate’ art. Present day pop-music, how horrible, how absurd. Think of the music they had listened to when they were young. They had seen a film recently, ‘Casablanca’, where you could hear all the lovely songs of the thirties. That could be called music. His wife agreed altogether. What would our youngsters think to them, I asked. Maybe we all accept what we’re used to? That’s right, Aldous’ wife said eagerly, we’re accustomed to them. We didn’t pursue this point further.

However, this horrible pop-music nowadays. Aldous couldn’t get over it. Just like degenerate art. I told him that the latter was a well-known slogan in Germany at one time. And Aldous : I don’t see that everything these people did was bad. I don’t think everything the South-Africans do is bad. And I sympathize with Stalin’s view of art, he did away with this degenerate stuff. What did he put in its place? I ventured. Aldous shrugged his shoulders. Little did he know, I suppose. In any case, it wasn’t a point of interest to him. Maybe it’s a matter of taste, one’s personal opinion, no more, I said, subjective, relative … However, Aldous likes it ‘absolute’. He believed, he said, in absolutes and he felt sure they existed in art, just as they did in music, esthetically pleasing, that was important. I said what one person finds beautiful another one might not. He answered, we all have an esthetic sense which responds to what is beautiful, but maybe some people have a poorer esthetic sense than others. I think I can safely assume that he would like to see his own idea of beautiful generally accepted, even if he was too modest to actually put this into words. He pointed out that ‘non-representational’ art was completely senseless because devoid of any relationship with reality, ‘I don’t know what it’s supposed to be. What’s the good of the damn picture ?’.

He told us about the case of an unfortunate art student who, having applied for a grant, had to be interviewed by Aldous. How can you tell that something is a work of art, he had asked the candidate who hesitantly answered that a work of art should be able to move us in one way or other. Move us in a good way? Aldous questioned. Yes, was the answer. What about it moving us in a bad way, Aldous carried on asking, is that still art ? Yes, the wretched person answered and never got the grant.

Bad art appealed to base instincts, such was Aldous’ conviction. What were his bad instincts, I wondered. He answered seriously they were … vanity, I thought that was quite remarkable but didn’t interrupt him, selfishness … and we didn’t hear any more because I unfortunately remarked that we all suffered from these unpleasant things. We certainly were all egoists. He said with fervour : We’re not as bad as some people. Look at the leading character of such and such a nation! There’s an egoist! And so many more! I said they would probably claim to serve their country’s interest. How do you mean? he exclaimed, that’s outrageous! His wife complained in general about the existence in this world of so many hypocrites and I could see my husband smile. I had no more to say.

Aldous’ wife then talked about the Vicar’s wife. A dangerous lady, she said, and divulged a little gossip from the Choir. I didn’t know where she had picked it up because they had left choir practice well before me. That woman is dangerous, she concluded and added that she was pleased that Johnie had said so, too. You want to be careful what you say to her, she said, looking straight into my eyes. I assured her that I was on the best of terms with both the Vicar and his wife. She was pleased to hear it.

This subject of conversation exhausted, we decided to do some music. Aldous had brought the music for two songs, he said, which he hadn’t done for years, and they might be a wee bit high, but why not have a go at them and he looked invitingly at his accompanist. The two songs turned out to be “Una furtiva lagrima” and “La donna è mobile”. We have them both sung by Gigli. I must give Aldous that he did what he could. Unlike the Vicar’s wife’s doctor he was not able to do more than he could. The volume was certainly there. And it was in Italian, the easiest language to sing in, Aldous had explained to me more than once. When they had finished, Aldous’ wife said “very nice” and “you two will have to practise that, so you can perform it at our next party”. I said to her, I thought it was on the high side for Aldous. She gave me a reprimanding look and said : Do you know why he’s finding it difficult ? Because he’s having to sing it slowly … I could see what she meant : the pianist wasn’t quite up to his task. I pointed out that after all my husband was sight-reading. Oh yes, of course, she said. Steve told me later that he had had to slow down because Aldous couldn’t follow, being out of practice.

I didn’t contribute any music myself being out of practice and preferred reading to them a first sample of my writing, an innocent little essay about our dog and my husband. Aldous was visibly enthralled by the reading, perhaps he liked my new skirt and romantic blouse, for he kept looking at me, and said ‘very good’ at the end. I don’t remember what his wife said, probably similar. No other comment was made, except by Steve who remarked that their minds should be at rest now.

They took their leave soon after, not before having expressed their satisfaction about my looking much better. They thought in fact that I looked well. We were seriously worried about you, Aldous said in quite a serious tone, and discussed it. Who with ? I asked, bearing in mind what I had heard from Yan. Between ourselves, he said, and then, giving a funny little laugh, added that to be truthful, we thought that you were a little bit Zn deficient. He chuckled. So did his wife. I informed him that he had been seen through a long time ago and that I had an essay on this subject ready in my drawer! He kept on laughing, I don’t know why. They invited us to come and see them in their house next Saturday.
On Aldous’ wife’s birthday I dutifully went to pay our compliments. I was lucky: they were out and I saved a lot of time by just depositing card and flowers on their doorstep. When I came home I found a bag with biscuits outside our door and a little note about who they were for. Aldous and his wife had also been to pay their compliments … to our dog. His birthday is the same as hers (sixteenth September).
They both had a cold next time we met, but were ‘delighted’ to see I was looking ‘so much better’. Quite remarkable what the rest from the Orms and the Georges did to me, I gathered from Aldous’ wife. I don’t know what she means by ‘rest’, she might not have understood my meaning. I expect she wouldn’t think I was as hard as that.

Our conversation seems to follow a certain pattern lately. First of all it’s food. Their neighbours, who are moving, had taken them out for a meal, to the most expensive place imaginable. Using up his entertainment allowance, Aldous reckoned. The meal, quite apart from being dangerous – tepid meat! think of all the micro-organisms growing on it! – had been of the lowest standard conceivable. And they went a little into detail, talking about cheese rind being served and three tiny noisettes of lamb at the above-mentioned temperature and one or two other tiny little portions. They came away hungry, they said, which didn’t stop Aldous from experiencing a ‘heaviness’ in his stomach until mid-morning next day. Anyway, Aldous’ wife said they were sorry about their neighbours leaving, the gentleman being such a nice person, and as for the lady, she might have come to terms with her in the long run.

The next subject was sex or something related. They had been to see a comedy on the above birthday. It was about a woman who manages three or four lovers all at the same time. And all the little incidents. Her cleverness. How she gets away with it. And the end! All the wives turn up and she has the presence of mind of transforming herself into a Matron looking after her patients, her lovers more exactly. I seemed to have heard a similar story before. Repetition doesn’t make a thing more interesting. They thought it was hilarious and were convinced that Steve and I would have enjoyed it, too. I like people with a sense of humour, Aldous said. How do you assess a person’s sense of humour, I asked. The answer I had was certainly one to be expected : Somebody who laughs about my jokes! And he laughed about his joke. See, his wife pointed out, he can laugh about himself.

I asked, why did they laugh about something in the theatre which in normal everyday life I knew they would frown upon. It is true, Aldous laughed, it is quite a disreputable little thing really, but he didn’t bother to answer my question. His wife, though, took up the reference to everyday life and drew our attention to a house in the village which had changed hands recently : Do you know what has become of that ? I didn’t. A love-nest, she said. I must have looked amazed, for she said it again. Aldous seemed to think I didn’t understand and explained that this was a word frequently appearing in certain newspapers like The Morning, etc. I was even more amazed to hear her use it. The house one of their friends had sold, the previously mentioned sixty-year-or-so-old lady, Kate, had turned into one, too. I didn’t know what comment I should make and said nothing. Aldous’ wife laughed a bit uncomfortably saying : Better than a hate-nest. She had, by the way, drawn her information from people living in the neighbourhood of these houses, we heard.

The topic was dropped and I asked about the meaning of laughing. Why do we laugh? What does it do to us? My personal theory was that we laughed mostly at the expense of others. This didn’t go down well with Aldous, because it is obviously an unkind thing to do. He had laughed about the lovers in the play because they were fools, I said. Oh no, he retorted, the situation was just so funny, so surprizing and unexpected. It was the woman, in this state of suspense, would she be found out or not, etc., etc.
Laughing about others is hurtful. We wouldn’t like to be hurt ourselves. Why are we liable to be hurt, I asked.What happens psychologically when we’re hurt? Somebody’s been unkind, was the answer, somebody has done or said something nasty which causes pain. Aldous didn’t seem to understand that this was not what I was interested in. I was not interested in any other person, only in myself. You can’t see it like that, he said, it’s interaction, somebody doing something and somebody else reacting. I said, we’re hurt when we find we can’t have our way, when our thoughts or ideas concerning a particular subject, our feelings concerning a person, receive a blow. Our psychology goes in a certain direction and we don’t like it to be crossed.

Aldous said we’re hurt when we’re disappointed, let down …I said this was precisely what I meant, we’re expecting something and our expectations are thwarted. Aldous said, imagine you have a little wart in your face and you know it isn’t much. Now, if somebody turns that into a big thing and makes a nasty remark about it, that hurts. I said, that’s easy, that’s your vanity called upon. Aldous said, somebody says a lie about you, that hurts. I said, you know it is a lie and can therefore be easy. Aldous said, you have to have a thick skin not to be hurt. Like such and such a well-known tycoon. Kicking round about him, hurting people left, right and centre. But so thick-skinned. Nobody could hurt him. I said, I bet a silly woman could by telling him he’s not the perfect lover or something similar. Aldous laughed, he likes that sort of remark. You have to have an analytical mind to look at things like that, he then said, not everybody is capable of that. Look at Kate (their lady-friend), she would never be able to do it. I said, anybody can do it who claims to be intelligent… Nothing to do with that, he interrupted me. What he meant was, I imagine, that people’s intelligence shouldn’t be questioned, especially not the intelligence of those present. I must give him that we have to defend ourselves. You have to be hard indeed, he said, not to be hurt. Very hard, his wife confirmed. Enormously insensitive, he said, implying that this wasn’t exactly a desirable condition. If people are hurt, I said, it’s because they hurt themselves. This is ridiculous, he said, it’s like one man shooting another man and saying it’s that fellows own fault for being in the way. I told him that this was not a logical argument and he asked me to put my argument in a logical way. He is always quick …

We eased off after that, fixed a time when to meet for a concert we were going to, wished them a good night and went home.
Aldous did say once during the conversation that I had thrown up an interesting subject. What would he have meant by that ?

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Reading Aloud 2

Johnie

His wife told me he had to have his wisdom teeth out and would therefore have to stay at home for a while. She wasn’t feeling too well herself and I promised them a visit, living up once more to my reputation of looking after the poorly.

I hope they didn’t find my visit too exhausting, for I stayed for two hours and we had an animated conversation. They told me about a T.V. programme they had seen, showing that theoretically, and who knows maybe practically, the childbearing capacity of human beings could be transferred from women to men, in the case for example of the woman being infertile and the couple dearly wanting a child. I expressed my surprize at this crave for children and was accused of having three myself. I couldn’t deny it and described it as a crave for physical fulfilment. Besides, it keeps people busy and one gets quite a bit of pleasure out of them. Of course, once they’re there, they can’t be discarded again … However, being young and optimistic, one doesn’t think too far ahead. Johnie thought this was just as well, because what would happen to mankind otherwise? I said : So what! He was surprized now and said : Do you mean our planet circling up there empty? I said : What’s wrong with that? Do you think it would be a great loss? He had never looked at it that way.

Somehow we passed on to the difference between man and woman. Johnie’s wife denied there was any, apart from the biological one. What accounted for the attraction? Just the instinct of procreation? Probably, it was thought. However, once that stage or age was over, Johnie’s wife said, there was little left. Not that she could feel much, what should we call it, sexual attraction when faced with men. Her main concern was that men and women being equal, they should be treated equally. Johnie said, it was there, quite big, in the background and couldn’t be simply talked away. I could not agree more. We quickly decided that there were, of course, differences in people’s make up, different features asserting themselves in different people. Johnie said, a platonic relationship between a man and a woman didn’t exist, did it … I pointed out that following this particular attraction would mean finishing up in a dead end.

We didn’t go into detail and passed on to the next question : was there an attraction other than that and where would that take us ? None of us knew an answer. Johnie’s wife said it might grow on us gradually. I said it might take a long time.

We passed on to another subject. I told them about my latest experience with the word ‘hurt’, more exactly with the state of being hurt which in my opinion reflected offence at not being able to have one’s way, offence at being thwarted, offence at somebody else being stronger and imposing him/herself, pressing his/her point without considering other people’s feelings. They said a polite ‘yes’ now and again. The second part of the proposition was easy enough to accept, I suppose, being the definition of ‘hurt’. As for the first part, ‘be hurt’, they would have to think about that and might come up with some comment next time we meet. They did agree it was preferable not to be hurt and also that being hurt must be understood as a weakness.

After that we discussed our little ailments past and present. How unpleasant not to be in full possession of one’s physical strength. We agreed on that most readily.

I wondered if I had exhausted them and took my leave not before having kissed Johnie’s swollen cheek a little … better, I was hoping. See you some time, we said.

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Reading Aloud 2

Mrs Rivers

I had been to the dentist first thing in the morning, then collected the weekly allowances and dropped in at Mrs Rivers’ for a cup of tea. Would you like a cup of tea? she normally asks and I say, yes, please. Perhaps she was a little disappointed this time about not being asked to supply herb tea. Maybe she wondered on the quiet what had caused me to change my mind. Anyhow, she produced a cup of Indian or China tea, I don’t know which, and we settled down to our weekly conversation.

She had had a tiring time with some dear, it is true, visitors. But all the talking! It had been too much for her. How can people talk like that all the time, she asked. I hadn’t been aware that this was a problem for her. Just like Aunt Maisie. Two very elderly ladies living on their own. Whenever I come to see them, they do all the talking. I put in the occasional remark which is enough to keep them going. I expect there can be over-stimulation liable to wear them out at their age.

How did you get on at the dentist’s, Mrs Rivers asked me next, another crown? I told her it was worse than that, the tooth in question being crowned already. However, he had managed to save it. I had to add for truth’s sake : There isn’t much of it left, but he could use the old crown. I suppose, the tooth is dead, she commented. I assured her it wasn’t. How come? she said, if there’s no substance, it’s bound to be dead. The dentist must have had similar feelings when he did the tooth, for he poked the nerve which sent me nearly out of his chair. I know that nerve is alive and am rather pleased about it. Hadn’t the dentist himself told me I would find out unmistakably as soon as any more trouble arose ? I told Mrs Rivers and she said that from a medical point of view it was preferable for the tooth to be alive.

She then turned to her favourite subjects, gardening and herbs. She had become rather fond of herbs, she told me and listed what she had in her garden. Then I had to make a list of what we have in our garden. From herbs she passed on to gardening which reminded her of a lady, also a keen gardener, who has a handicapped child. Ten months old and what is to become of him? I admitted it was a frightening idea. In former times they used to die early, she said, of chest problems, pneumonia and that sort of thing. Nowadays they’ve all these drugs and keep them alive. What’s the good of it? She knew of another case, grown into a strong young man, eating a lot no doubt, but totally incapacitated otherwise. Or such and such an elderly gentleman living like a cabbage in a home. Very well looked after. His relatives are lucky, it doesn’t cost them a penny. I don’t know, she said, giving me a scrutinizing look and then assessing me as reasonably open-minded, formerly you gave them a morphium jab, she had been a doctor herself, ‘easing them out’ it used to be called. One couldn’t do that nowadays without some silly newspaper making a fuss of it. Quite honestly, she continued, all the money it costs to keep them alive, couldn’t that be spent in another way? I couldn’t think of any reason for keeping these cases alive, except that they were perhaps meant to be a burden to us. She said, perhaps so.

Another visitor turned up who brought vegetables for Mrs Rivers. More talk about herbs. Mrs Rivers told the visitor that I used a lot of herbs in my cooking. I was thinking to myself, my husband wished I did. The conversation then turned to cats, the newly arrived lady being a great lover of these animals. She has two and buys Chinese rabbits for them. It was not available lately which forced her to ‘buy English’. So expensive! Nearly as expensive as lamb. I heard she cooks the meat for her cats. The cats bring live mice to her house to play with them in the lounge. Never eat them. Quite naughty as well. Obviously the cats know how to handle her. I told her that our cat catches his own English rabbits, eating them in the garage. Raw. After that I took my leave, because I was expecting a visitor.

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Reading Aloud 2

New Friend

I hadn’t seen him for a long time, over a month, considering that we only live a few minutes apart. I had no reason to see him, of course, my impression being that he was fit and well and busy. He had no reason to see me, either, I imagine. I wondered for how long he would be able to stick it. After all, we were due to see ‘Don Giovanni’ in another month’s time. He had invited me for that two or three months ago.

One morning as I returned from the dentist, I found a letter which had been delivered by hand. I recognized the writing and was curious what he would have to say. It turned out to be a tale of lament and woe written on a scruffy piece of paper. He wrote he had refrained from making a ‘fair copy’, because, he said, ‘this muddle is the true me’. I was highly amused and went about sorting him out :

1° He accused me of having withdrawn my affection from him.

2° He told me I had ‘almost brutally’ returned a ‘modest and harmless token of his
affection’, referring to the previously mentioned silver chain and heart. He must have
had second thoughts about ‘affection’ on its own, for he had added in a scribble ‘and
gratitude’.

3° He stated we had seen ‘practically nothing of each other’.

4° He said he couldn’t guarantee to keep his relationship with me ‘strictly free from all
emotional overtones’, such had been, so he wrote, my stipulation. For this reason he
had kept away from me ‘with unaccustomed exertion of will-power’.
I laughed aloud reading this and thought I would have to congratulate him on his
efforts.

5° He expressed hope of ‘gradually mastering his feelings’ and made a harsh remark
about people who had told him, a widower, ‘ad nauseam’ that Time was a great healer.
He didn’t seem to like this saying very much, especially not with respect to his
‘emotions’ concerning me. However, passing on to the next and culminating point of his
letter…

6° … he had ‘reluctantly decided’ to cancel his evening at the opera with me. The exact
reason he gave was the following :
‘… I could not sit next to you … without certain feelings and emotions welling up inside
me and no doubt over-spilling’.
The eloquence of the imagery used in this sentence sent me into fits of laughter and I
decided I wanted to see him.

He pretended to be reluctant when I telephoned to invite him for a cup of tea. He was only accusing himself, not me at all, he protested. I was glad he saw things the right way and said ‘excellent’. Eventually, cutting a long story short, I asked, did he want to see me or not ? He seized the opportunity, thus forcing me to give up any idea of listening to music, and agreed to be there after lunch.

He came and to put him at ease I kissed him lightly. Then I gave him my latest little essay to read while I was making tea in the kitchen. I also had an apple-pie left over from the previous day which he seemed to enjoy with a good appetite, probably not having had any lunch.

Why had I asked him to read this particular piece of writing, he wondered first of all. It was about my recent conversation with Johnie and his wife. No doubt I assumed, so he said, that he was hurt. He certainly wasn’t, he said, but was interested by my idea of ‘being hurt’. I answered, this was not the case really. There was something else. He singled out the term ‘sexual attraction’, calling it ‘quite good, clear and suitable’. I should have known he would go for that and not the question on the next page. We talked about sex quite a lot. I don’t know why he insisted on calling it ‘emotions’. Where does he keep his emotions, anyway? He thought, he said, one’s heart was the place for that… I referred to the ‘over-spilling’ part of his letter. The penny dropped pretty quickly and he pretended to be shocked, about my imagination, I expect, but pleased really, with himself no doubt, because he sat down again, a broad grin on his face. I evoked the idea of him being married to me. What would he think to that ? ‘Dreadful thought!’ he said spontaneously, arms crossed over his chest and looking disgusted.

I didn’t take this as a personal insult and pursued the idea of the grapes that hang too high for the fox. How alluring, how mouth-watering! There may have been, however, a very slight chance that the fox’s final conclusion concerning their quality was pretty near the mark. Of course, he will never find out, not by trying them, anyway. New Friend didn’t like that prospect …

I told him next what sort of books children between eleven and fourteen years of age prefer to read. I had drawn my information from a newspaper article which suggested that ‘sex’ was the one subject of interest. Having read one of these books myself, I was able to go into detail. New Friend was totally surprized, profoundly shocked and utterly disgusted. He thought I had a tough job on my hands with two teenage daughters. How will you manage? he asked, I expect you will. You normally seem to. I thought to myself ‘by setting an example’. However, this idea was far from his mind …

He went a bit over the top when he said bye-bye. I realized I wouldn’t have to kiss him anymore. I don’t want him to ‘over-spill’ for my sake.

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Reading Aloud 2

Thoughts on a book from the school library

Judy Blume, Tiger Eyes

Book cover

Front : romanticized picture of a girl with commonly accepted features and make-up, a mask in fact, pastel colours, dreamlike, melancholy.
Back : first half, sentimental quotation : a teenage girl ‘lifting her face to the sun’, idealized relationship with her father; second half, platitudes : ‘beloved’, ‘wasteful horror’, ‘a landscape as desolate as her own life’, ‘mysterious young man called Wolf’ who makes the reader hope for a happy end after all.

 

Contents

Dedication : ‘For George. Contigo la vida es una buena aventura.’ (With you life is a good adventure.) This projects optimism and indicates the spirit of the book: our problems can be solved.
Caring, if a little possessive relatives receive a family bereaved of husband and father. The book is more or less an account of the year spent in new surroundings.
There are different people with different problems.

Davey, the main character, a fifteen year old girl, can’t talk to her mother about the sinister event: her father ‘dying from multiple gunshot wounds’. Yet, talking about it would, in accordance with certain laws of psychology, help her master its impact. She is therefore in a plight. In the end, a casual psychologist recommended by Davey’s mother solves the problem and Davey is relieved.
Davey’s mother is hysterical, there is a lively description of this, without self-control whatsoever and needs psychiatric treatment which, as cannot be expected otherwise, is successful eventually. She even finds a man to comfort her, but turns him down after having regained strength. She can now stand on her own feet again, face life and make plans for the future.
Jane, a friend of Davey’s, has a drinking problem, but the alcohol abuse clinic will solve that.

There is a sex problem in general, affecting most people.
Davey is not supposed to go on the beach with her boyfriend, because that is where she herself was inadvertently conceived. She has this information from her parents, of course. She is a good daughter and keeps her promise, persuading her boyfriend to ‘make out’ with her standing up against a tree in the garden, detailed description. When they come to a point where she is about to lose her will-power, there are a few timely shots nearby: a sinister event is taking place at the right moment.

The account of what actually happened at this moment stretches, by virtue of interruptions at crucial stages, throughout the whole book, so as to keep the reader in suspense. The culminating point is reached at the psychiatrist’s with a dramatic description of a battlefield drenched in blood. The reader now understands why Davey can’t bear the sight of blood and sleeps with a huge breadknife under her pillow. This terrible tool is eventually discarded under the impact of the ‘mysterious young man’, Wolf. She leaves it with him in a secret cave.

Wolf is an outstanding young man with whom Davey’s boyfriend can’t compare : a few years older, tall, tanned, handsome, ‘narrow hips, strong arms and shoulders’, kind, sad, helpful. She buries her head on his chest, no more. His father turns out to be a terminal cancer case in the local hospital where Davey has a part-time job. He dies cheerfully and peacefully, an example to everybody, not before having explained to Davey what a brilliant scholar his son is, a student at a foremost university. Sadly, Davey doesn’t have his address, but is convinced they will meet again, especially since receiving a touching present from him which came by post: a semi-precious stone called ‘tiger eye’, at their first meeting she had asked him to call her ‘Tiger’.

Davey, too, has regained her self-confidence at the end and after a long chat with her mother in a fashionable restaurant is more than ready to go back home. The spirit is good. Life is a good adventure after all, she explains to her aunt whose mind boggles at this wisdom, but who is obliged to let them go. All is well that ends well!

The setting of the novel is American middle class society, which accounts for a few Americanisms like ‘hyperventilating is different than fainting’, ‘I turn away and look out the window’, etc.
The pleasures and pains this society has to cope with, like sex and alcoholism, are presented in a natural, matter-of-fact way. It is a little surprizing that sex-related problems like certain diseases are not mentioned at all. Maybe they have been overcome. The idea is no doubt that children should be encouraged to handle sex by themselves from the earliest possible age. Thus sex becomes a perfectly natural matter of routine, like Jane’s parents making love ‘once a week on Saturday nights’. There is a reference to sex on almost every other page. This is what children want to read, the sales figures are eloquent proof. My twelve-year-old daughter certainly reads it with glowing cheeks.

There are many books like that, very popular and why not. As long as children behave themselves, like Davey, and don’t go on the beach, there can be no harm. If there is, then it’s their own fault for being naughty, they’ve certainly been warned. Again I feel that for completeness’ sake mention should have been made of V.D. A revized edition should take Aids into account. Perhaps the Author felt it would be pointless exaggerating problems by drawing a darker picture than necessary. She feels we should have an optimistic outlook on life and then much to our surprize problems will solve themselves, in her book, anyway.

Tiger Eyes makes good reading: simple style, casual language, explicitness, clarity, no obscurity of any kind, within easy reach of any I.Q., everything laid open, explained, sorted out, in a word, real life.
The Author is obviously aware of the presence of certain undesirable phenomena, like the privileged upper class scientists who make ‘the Bomb’, Davey finds this terrible. It means she realizes there is another side to it. Fortunately she doesn’t have anything to do with that.
On the whole an informative book meeting its young readers’ demands.

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Reading Aloud 2

The Church

The Church is a body primarily interested in self-preservation. To promote this end it makes its faithful profess belief in it, after the Holy Trinity, of course, every so often. Secondly the Church is interested in money and in conjunction with that, thirdly, in politics.
It also looks after the sick and the poor, because such has been its image for a long time. Institutions have to live up to their image in order to be widely accepted and respected.

The Church believes in guiding people and in telling them what to do and who to vote for in the case of elections, for example, or referendums. It tells people what to spend their money on, Church supported projects, for example, and threatens to punish disobedience with the means at its disposal.
The punishments have varied from century to century in keeping with the respective spirit of the times, I imagine, from a downright physical nature, ranging from tortures of all kinds to extinction by fire which had the inconvenience of producing an unpleasant smell, to mere spiritual ones which in our more sensitive times are just as effective, for who would like to be threatened with eternal fire of varying intensity depending on the degree of disobedience? Who would forgo eternal pleasures, if all one has to do is do as one is told?
Doesn’t the Church promise to lead everyone who believes in it to a safe place ?

Of course, there are small interior differences of opinion, perfectly human. Some like it high, some low. Heaven is high, I suppose, why not aspire to it on Earth? Low, on the other hand, stands for humility … People can choose what they like, suit themselves according to their temperaments. Some like it colourful and festive, to the honour of God, needless to say. Others prefer it plain, also to the honour of God. Some believe in the power of praying, success being commensurate with the effort deployed presumably, and really drive it home to the addressee envisaged. Others pray only in distress, thus confirming a popular proverb.

Prayers can deal with all sorts of subjects. The faithful know they can tell Him anything at all. They can praise Him, thank Him, ask Him for help, the latter probably being the most popular motivation. The Church assures them that He will lend His ear to everyone and if our prayers aren’t answered, one should never give up. Maybe one has to accept in the long run that one can’t have what one wants, but that is a different matter. It would appear that the posture adopted when praying is of a certain importance. Some like to sit with their head down, eyes closed. Some bend their back considerably at the same time. Others kneel, supporting themselves by resting their elbows on the back of the pew in front of them, their folded hands in an upright position serving as head supports, any long hair coming down on either side. One clergyman told me, this was known as the ‘shampoo position’. Others like to stand erect, or with a stoop as the case might be. The congregation generally follows the officiating clergyman and it seems important for everybody to do the same thing. Obviously nobody would like to stick out.

Some believe in the beneficial effect of crossing themselves, others seem able to do without it. Some believe they’re ingesting human substance, others are happy with a symbolical explanation. Some like holy water, others don’t. Some like their priest to change his top garment several times during the service, others prefer plain black all the way. Some clergy are allowed wives, others housekeepers only. Some people welcome ‘clergywomen’, others are fiercely against them, ‘the reactionary only and they’re bound to die out’, I was told by a progressive clergyman. Maybe this latter problem will be solved by a simple law of economics, that of offer and demand.
As to God’s own nature, male or female, nobody has been able to make a definite statement yet. Until we know, the address may remain ‘Father’ which implies a certain amount of male chauvinism, it is true. However, it is of long standing and from a practical point of view – how can the faithful address Him and what about the Lord’s Prayer? – this would be the easiest solution.

Music is normally considered an asset in divine services. Most churches have at least a piano and the congregation is expected to sing. Not terribly well in some cases, a bit slow, a bit behind the organ, enough to drive a musician to despair, but most people don’t notice it, and we can take comfort from the fact that the addressee will mercifully receive it as part of our worship, a little imperfect, but that is all we can do. In any case, it’s the effort that counts.
The hymns are all in praise of Him, telling Him about our troubles – I thought He knew them anyway?- , about our struggles, about the Church who thanks to His help has managed to survive all these years. In one or two hymns the faithful express their thanks for any help given in their fight against the heretics.

Churches readily welcome cultural events within their walls, music or drama, preferably of a sacred character – ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ seems to be the appropriate, if not the ideal subject -, but they will accept more worldly items like a martial Battle Pavane or some innocent soap opera as performed by members of an outstanding choir. Depending on the priest in charge, there might be an opening or closing prayer, and some blessings with a bit of luck. At the very least there will be a priest around in his working-habit, so as to remind people by the very sight of him where they are.

The sermon is a more or less important part of the service. It usually starts and ends with a praise to Him, the centre part being devoted to a Christian way of life in keeping with the Church’s own teachings in whatever field, some Christians are more flexible in this respect than others. The faithful usually follow the sermon with great interest, eager to learn how they can mend their ways. They can then go home comforted, accompanied by the blessings of the Church.
In some parishes there is a cup of coffee available after service. In one case the faithful could unfortunately not be bothered to join their clergyman in the Parish Room, this room being a little out of the way. To mend this state of affairs, it was decided to propose coffee in the church itself, at the very back. I haven’t heard any more.

The Church is popular on certain family occasions, because it helps to make for a nice, warm, pleasant, jolly, sad, grievous, etc. atmosphere. Also it is a done thing to have the Church on such occasions. Apparently it takes a lot of courage not to have it, a non-church goer, who had to have his wife buried, told me, asking: How do you do these things without the Church ?

There are a few unruly professors of theology and bishops around the country who insist on professing publicly personal opinions on various parts of the dogma. However, as a rule these can be handled well within the framework of the Church. In any case, the Church should be able to accommodate divergent elements, if only to prove that it is as broad-minded as certain rumour has it, prepared to go with the times.

Throughout history, the Church has shown considerable flexibility. It has managed to come to terms with most ruling powers, the most satisfactory state being that Church and ruling power are one. However, even when this is not possible, the Church will prosper under any government that can be called Christian at all. Under governments other than these, the case is a little different in so far as the Church would constitute a rival who could hardly be tolerated. This means that the Church is forced to adapt itself to circumstances, displaying an astonishing amount of flexibility considering its age.
In Christian countries the Church will support a government that will support the Church, that is, will let the Church have its proper place in whatever context is suitable. It has, for example, a prominent place in the military world, and I have seen a photograph of a clergyman splashing holy water on cannons and personnel, thus boosting everybody’s fighting morale.
In a number of countries religious instruction is a compulsory subject at school, giving the Church a chance to at least try and direct young minds the right way.
In one country I know of, the head of the State is at the same time the head of the Church. This strikes me as a good precondition for fruitful cooperation. It is quite significant, for example, that it is the Prime Minister who appoints the bishops. I have not heard about this happening the other way round and it would seem there is scope for development, if only for fairness’ and equality’s sake.

The church has a long tradition of looking after worldly affairs, increasing, like the good servant in the Bible, the pennies entrusted to or acquired by it, turning them into pounds and amassing such wealth throughout the centuries that it can live comfortably on the interest in our present day.
Most people will appreciate this desire for financial independence. In my country the understanding between Church and State is such that the State will raise a tax called ‘Church tax’ from all members on the Church’s behalf. This saves the Church asking for donations and writing thank-you-letters. In return, the Church will oblige the State whenever it can.

My daughter is learning all about the crusades at the moment: under what difficult conditions the brave knights and their followers had to travel, live and fight, the sacrifices they made to conquer the wicked Muslims and liberate the Holy Land. It moves teachers and children alike even nowadays.
There was one crusade not quite as difficult, being in a neighbouring country. Certain heretics had created a flourishing civilization which was threatening to spread, a most undesirable rival reducing the Church’s sphere of influence in an impertinent and unprecedented way, obliging the Church to do away with it while it could. With fire and sword, proven Muslim practice.

In spite of many differences of opinion inside the Church there is general agreement on two basic points : people must be baptized in order to secure membership and people must be made to say at regular intervals that they ‘believe in the … Church’, in order to safeguard its indispensability and justify its existence.
It is true, there is a slight disagreement about the meaning of the adjective preceding ‘Church’. However, this is a small linguistic problem which does not endanger the principle and should not take long to sort out.

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Reading Aloud 2

Impressions of British Rail

My niece was coming to this country for the first time, the object being to spend a year at an attractive university in the North. She interrupted her journey to see us. We were expecting her in the evening and were a little anxious because we didn’t know whether she was caught in the strike affecting certain ferries between this country and the Continent. Aldous’ wife told us comfortingly that she had seen a lot of chaos in the ports on T.V. However, it turned out, my niece got away unscathed.

She arrived smiling and saying, she rather liked it here. People had been very friendly and helpful, carrying her cases for her and directing her to the right places. Getting onto the right train from Dover to London, though, hadn’t been too easy. She asked an official who pointed out the train to her. She heaved her heavy luggage into it and sat down with a sigh of relief, only to be told by some kind fellow travellers that the train certainly didn’t go all the way to London. Duly alarmed, she heaved her luggage back out and addressed another railway official who informed her that the train she had just left certainly went all the way to London. Reassured she heaved her luggage back in and sat waiting with all the others for about fifteen minutes. Everything was quiet. Suddenly people started moving out, my niece had no idea, why. One after the other everybody left the train. She didn’t like to stay behind on her own and followed suit, tackling her luggage yet again. As soon as the train was empty, it moved away. My niece thought, this was funny. However, another train came in and everybody boarded that. She joined the crowd, full of confidence that she would get to London in the end. She wasn’t disappointed.

Next morning we took her to our railway station, quite a big one, from where she wanted to continue her journey. I hadn’t been there for a long time and was surprized to see all the latest technological equipment: No unsightly notice boards any more, but V.D.U.s, ‘video display units’, everywhere, three in a row above our heads, one empty, one with train times and departure platforms, one with special notices. My husband was pleased to see it. This was progress. This was efficiency. He went through the station in a bit of a rush, because he wanted to arrange a student card for my niece. The two of them disappeared into some office and emerged back out in good time. My son had been consulting the V.D.U.s and took us to the platform indicated.

I had been studying the ‘special notices’ which alarmed me a little. However, I didn’t impart my alarm to the others, what’s the point ? The ‘special notices’ said that due to a shortage of ‘diesel coaching units’ a number of trains on the line my niece was going to use would be cancelled. The line linking this station to the airport was also affected. We arrived on the correct platform and my husband asked how we could know whether this was it. My son pointed out the V.D.U.s, his father obviously having forgotten their presence. My husband was satisfied and started reading the given information, not very easy reading with these small letters. I drew his attention to the ‘special notices’. He said we could only hope for the best and what a good job we didn’t have to make an aeroplane. My niece was telling him about her experience in Dover which made him smile, if in a wry way, when a completely unintelligible announcement was made. My husband, a native speaker, couldn’t make out what it was. However, presumably as a result, everybody on our platform started moving across to the next platform. It was just like that in Dover! my niece exclaimed, delighted at the timely illustration for her little tale. My husband was unsure and thought it wise not to stay behind. Very soon a train came in and the chances were good that this was the one she wanted. Everybody boarded it, anyway. She got on, too, in spite of a notice on the train naming a destination in the opposite direction. There appeared a notice on the platform now, saying that this train would go to the right place. We had to take it on trust. There was no time left, for the train moved off. One minute early! How was that possible ? Normally … Which train on the timetable was it, anyway ?
I suppose it makes life a little more exciting. And she reached her destination safely – thanks to British Rail.

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Reading Aloud 2

Mr and Mrs Orms

I had a warm welcome when looking them up for the first time in nearly a month. It’s a tonic seeing you, Mr Orms exclaimed. Apparently they weren’t sure whether to start worrying about me, not having seen me for a while. However, they soon dropped this point and didn’t make any comment on what I looked like either.

First of all I heard that the much longed for red sweater was ready and that he had in fact worn it to church, which was alright, Mrs Orms, who had knitted it, thought. Fancy wearing it for work in the garden, though! Making a bonfire in it and making it smell of smoke! Mrs Orms looked disgusted and Mr Orms sheepish. I heard he had been working in the garden more than he should have done, he could tell by the way he felt the day after.

Anyway, he asked me would I like a drink. I said I did and they looked pleasantly surprized. He went into the kitchen to make tea while she put me in the picture about what had happened to them in the meantime. Work on their bathroom would soon start, she was hoping, the man from the Council having been. The Vicar expected too much organ-playing from her husband, having little sympathy with Mr Orms’ state of health. Was he paid for it at all, I asked. Yes, he was paid for it a little, was the answer. Then she gave me all the news about her granddaughter’s twenty-first birthday party and told me they were expecting their other son back from hospital where he had been staying for quite a while.

Mr Orms brought the tea in their nicest cups, I saw his was a bit chipped, but mine was perfect, and I told them about my niece having gone to Durham for a year. Mrs Orms is from that area and their faces lit up. Mr Orms told me a tale of dangerous rock-climbing which he did with his brother-in-law, of dropping into the sea, all this near Durham, and then running along the beach in an attempt to dry their clothes. They seemed like two of the same kind. Mrs Orms shook her head and Mr Orms chuckled. This was ever so many years ago, of course.

I changed the subject and asked their opinion about the audacious lady-priest who had defied the Church by celebrating Holy Communion. What did they think about ladies for priests ? They were unanimous in condemning the attempt. It was against everything the Scriptures taught. Not a single woman had been entrusted with a sacred office. All the Apostles were men who had handed their jobs down to other men. If this is so, I said, why do you not recognize the lawful successor of St Peter ? Well, there was Henry VIII, Mrs Orms said. She wasn’t too sure what he had done. It was a political decision, I helped her. Oh yes, she said. One could come back on it, I said, pushing a little. They looked doubtful. The services in the village church were certainly very high, Mr Orms said. There seemed to be very little difference … Why don’t you rejoin the original Church, I asked. The question confused them, they had never considered that. Then Mr Orms told me, he had had communion in the local Methodist church more than once, having played the organ for them, from a female priest in fact. He had thought nothing about it. He had rather liked the simplicity of their service. What about female priests in your own church then, I asked. He looked puzzled. It wouldn’t be right, would it, I helped him. They both shook their heads resolutely. Definitely not. They did agree with the Vicar who was dead against it. I said it was difficult breaking habits. They didn’t know whether to agree or not.

I told them about the Vicar’s article in the Parish Magazine two months ago where he had fervently defended priesthood as a male prerogative. I knew somebody had written a reply, Johnie’s wife. Was it published yet ? They handed me the latest issue of the magazine and the reply was there. I read it out to them, they know Johnie’s wife well enough. She enthusiastically proved from the Scriptures that theologically nothing spoke against women being priests. Even the editor couldn’t help recognizing this, because he added in a little note; “Fair enough”. He did ask people, though, to bear in mind that ‘Christian Unity‘ seemed to be on the horizon and that it was unwise to jeopardize this by introducing one-sided changes. Politically unwise, to be exact, I suppose.

I said to Mr and Mrs Orms, it looked as though their Church was on its way back into the original one. This brought unpleasant thoughts to Mrs Orms‘ mind. She remembered there was a powerful duke, member of the original Church, who the Queen depended upon heavily for most of her decisions. Mrs Orms thought so, anyway. How nasty, this Church coming in the back way, she said. How dangerous! She looked anything but cheerful. Mr Orms looked concerned.

I reminded them of the referendum concerning divorce in Ireland. Did they approve of the outcome, in other words, did they think people should make up their own minds or should they be pressurized in a certain direction? by powerful bodies? They didn’t like the idea of pressure. I pointed out it was probably a matter of habit, of pressure as much as anything else. Things one is used to one will accept. Things one isn’t used to one doesn’t want. They said, probably so. It was all a bit much for them really. They did know they didn’t want female priests.

Mr Orms changed the subject. He had found an interesting fossil in his garden and showed it me. Mrs Orms moved into the kitchen to start cooking lunch. I took my leave, picking up an apple or two from under their wonderful, old-fashioned tree and thinking I won’t have to see them for another three weeks, to make sure I get another warm welcome.

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Reading Aloud 2

Aunt Maisie

She told me all about the W.I. last time I saw her. She is an honorary member, the oldest member of her group in terms of membership, not in years, apparently there is one lady even older than she, not active like Aunt Maisie who regularly attends the monthly meetings, somebody takes her.

She knew that the President of the neighbouring W.I. had retired because she wanted to move to the West Country. Do you know her? she asked me. I was pleased to be able to say I did, if only by hearsay, Aldous’ wife had told me about her. Aunt Maisie knew her very well. She remembers the old-time dancing they did years ago. Who knows nowadays what old-time dancing is? she mused, good times they were.

Fancy who’s their new President! she said next and again I was pleased to show that I was in the picture: the Orms’ neighbour! She nodded approval. Yes, she said, aren’t they lucky. A wonderful lady. Full of energy. She’s going to take things in hand. Do you know, does a President get paid? I hadn’t the faintest idea but thought that ‘probably not’. She was satisfied and carried on: The President has an awful lot of work. I remembered Aldous’ wife saying something like that, she would accept the Vice-Presidency, she had explained, but no more. Too much hassle. Of course, Aunt Maisie went on, she has the Committee to work for her, no less than nine and no more than thirteen committee members and she raised her right forefinger to stress the point. Then she asked, did I know Mrs Soandso, I didn’t this time, a very busy member of the last committee. They had had several meetings in her house and her husband always used to help with the tea. Another committee member had a different type of husband, I gathered, who invariably took the dog for a walk as soon as they arrived. A long walk it must have been, Aunt Maisie said, slightly piqued, for they never saw that gentleman again all afternoon. Anyway, he was dead now, she informed me.

She came back to the neighbouring W.I. and said that the members of that group were all ‘quite ordinary people’. She paused and I wondered what she meant by that. I had no suggestion to make and she helped a little by saying: Well, in our group there are quite a few ‘so-calleds’. She paused again, looking expectantly, until at last the penny dropped. Did she mean they had a few … Ladies? She nearly had me excited because this particular phenomenon is unknown in my country. Yes, she said, pleased to be able to give me the information, we do, and very nice ones! According to her, many people think Ladies are stuck up. But they aren’t, you know, she said, I’ve worked for the gentry, real gentry, not the ones that came in after the War with nothing but money to show for it, I know what the real gentry are like. They – are – very – nice! I told her I believed they were.

At this point the subject seemed exhausted and Aunt Maisie passed on to her doctor who I knew already was a wonderful man. All the things he’d done for her. Even making her ulcer heal. All the different treatments he’d tried out, until at last it started healing up. The district nurse who was looking after her said it would have cost her a fortune paying for it out of her own pocket! Who knows, Aunt Maisie said to me, he might not have done it for everybody. She rather liked the idea.

I had to go home and she said she hoped I wouldn’t dispense with her. I hadn’t been to see her last week, and remembering that I had given up shopping for the Orms’, she probably wondered how I felt about her. I reassured her I wouldn’t dream about giving her up. You don’t shop for the Orms’ any more, do you? she asked slightly suspicious. No, I told her, just see them occasionally, once every three weeks or so. She said I certainly mustn’t do too much and I had started looking better already. I was surprized to hear it, she had never said anything to the contrary. No doubt she meant that visiting her wouldn’t do me any harm. I shall go on seeing her when I can.

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Reading Aloud 2

Aldous and his wife

I could tell by the way they were looking at me last time I saw them that my reputation was changing rapidly.

The evening started off very innocently. My husband offered drinks and they both opted for white wine, explaining they had just been to a conference where they had heard the latest results of research done into the compatibility of red and white wine. Apparently seventy-five per cent of people were allergic to red wine as opposed to thirty per cent to white wine. They had observed this themselves, they said, not feeling good after having had the relevant drink. I congratulated myself on obviously belonging to the small group of people who can have red wine impudently, for that’s the one I prefer.

They then told us about two days they had spent with Yan and his wife in the latters’ time-share holiday resort. They had enjoyed going for walks with them, although Yan always seemed to be ahead of everybody. With these huge legs of his, Aldous’ wife commented mildly, he can’t help it. We were pleased to hear that Aldous had stayed behind to keep the ladies company.
What a posh place they had rented, Aldous’ wife exclaimed next. She had asked where the bed was they were going to sleep in, and all Yan’s wife had had to do was to push a button and the thing came out of the wall! Luxuriously equipped, they didn’t know their country was capable of anything like that, hidden away, a whole complex of flats with swimming pool, shops and any modern amenities, in the most beautiful countryside! It must have cost enormous sums of money to build, Aldous thought. I wondered quietly what the countryside had looked like before and why Aldous made such efforts to keep our part of the world ‘rural’, threatened as we were by a take-over bid from another county that would go in for urbanization. True enough, they started talking about this subject.

We hadn’t been to the important meeting starring Aldous as one of the main speakers. Had we at least read the report in the newspaper? No, we hadn’t. Well, a totally distorted report written by a silly woman who hadn’t opened her mouth once during the debate. We said, how extraordinary. Yes, Aldous said. They had had to ring up people and tell them to write letters in reply. The local County Councillor among others. A pleasant man, Aldous thought. A nice face, his wife added. A dickensian face, Aldous said, the main character from the Pickwick Papers. Anyway, the week after there had been a whole page of letters in the newspaper putting things right. Very satisfying.

Next thing, Aldous’ wife asked me, had I seen anyone this week, then checking herself – of course, you don’t see the Georges any more – , she informed me that George’s wife was ‘cheerful’ last time she saw her. I was glad. And the Vicar’s wife! She had me interested now because I had no news at all and had seen her car driven by another person. How was she? Very poorly, poor lady, Aldous’ wife said, she’s best off in bed and broke down in tears when I telephoned her. I must go and see her, poor dear. I hope she will.

We passed on to the subject of music. Wasn’t that a lovely concert, an English singer singing in German all evening. Is there a German singer singing songs in English all evening? Aldous asked me. I asked back, were there English songs? One or two, he answered and had no more to say. Let’s have some practice, Aldous’ wife said, we’re doing a duet on a Victorian party given by the W.I. She asked my husband to accompany them on the piano and they sang with much feeling the Victorian ‘Keys to heaven’. I wondered what these keys were. This was revealed stanza by stanza :

A suitor proposes in general terms the ‘keys of heaven’ to his beloved, his words accompanied by the relevant gestures and facial expressions.
The lady turns him down, this also accompanied by …
He proposes a dress out of blue silk.
The lady turns him down.
He proposes a coach and six.
The lady turns him down.
He then, at last, is forced to go to extremes and offers the ‘keys to his heart’.
The lady falls for him now, in other words grabs him and secures him lifelong by accepting him in marriage.
They sang the last stanza together, praising this happy turn of events.

I thanked them and Aldous said: Well, there was an English song for you. You said there weren’t any! I couldn’t accept this and had to put him right, having asked a simple question, no more. He shrugged his shoulders. I added, perhaps the German songs are in a different … category? He said, oh yes, of course, they’re in a different category. I don’t know why he repeated my very words. Maybe he felt this was the best way of putting it. My husband then played the piano for them, sending them to sleep while I was knitting.

To bring everybody back to life I suggested to try and amuse them a little by reading something to them. I definitely had them interested, although they might have preferred me to play the recorder instead, I’m not sure. I told them there was a choice of subjects :
The Church; A book from the school library; Impressions of British Rail . They laughed a little uneasily and hesitated. Choosing British Rail would have been chickening out and I had told them a bit about it already. What sort of a book was the one discussed in the other essay, they inquired. I thought to myself, a sexy one but didn’t say so, it would have put them off. We let you choose, Aldous said. I objected to that. Well, it’s not yet Sunday … , Aldous’ wife said. I misunderstood her and took the hint. Alright, it was practically Sunday, 11p.m. or so … Not yet Sunday, she laughed. Alright, I said, it’s nearly Sunday, is it a case for the Church ? You please yourself, Aldous said. Which one do you want? I asked back. Let’s have the Church, Aldous’ wife answered. I told them I hoped they could see the humour in it, but I don’t think they did. They kept a straight face most of the time. Aldous consulted his watch once, very unusual for him who is a polite person normally, my fault probably for claiming his undivided attention for the best part of five or six minutes.

They laughed aloud only once, about the ‘shampoo position’ when praying. I suppose this would appeal to their sense of humour. When I had finished they looked at me as if not knowing what to think. Perhaps they didn’t recognize me or thought I had changed or felt that some of their unease concerning me was justified after all, because Aldous said ‘You damn the Church!’. I had to defend myself, because nowhere did I say that. Aldous took the paper and quoted the offensive first sentence, I hope he can forget it again, and indeed I was right. He raised his eyebrows saying: Of course it can be interpreted as a damnation!’. I told him he was free to interpret it the way he liked. He now started to look into the meaning of ‘self-preservation’, found out that everybody suffered from this instinct, our Society certainly for one thing, and I said it was very human and nothing wrong with it.
He left off, deplored the Church’s involvement in politics, said there was reason for a lot of complaint, things that could be done better and things that needed reforming, certainly in his view … This could be understood as him knowing what had to be done. ‘And yet …’, Aldous pondered. His wife threw in that the large Franciscan order followed a rule of poverty, they weren’t rich! And what about such and such a nun devoting her life to the poor in India! She wasn’t interested in money! ‘And yet’ Aldous continued, the Church is the only place where there is room for spirituality. Nowhere else are people confronted with spirituality. The Church is their only chance. He added: It may not be for you. It may not be for me. But it may help others. He gave me a scrutinizing look at the same time, assessing me as not exactly the spiritual sort. I said, there was a saying: people who talk most about … love, for example, are furthest from it. He disqualified this as a ‘rather glib’ statement. I said it was open for discussion, but he didn’t take up the point.

Somehow the conversation turned to brain-washing and brain in general, the difference between brain and mind and what it all meant. Aldous gave us his view in a long monologue, but I didn’t look at my watch.
Suddenly I was reminded of something I had read in the press, an important lady-member of the royal family having described her brain in an interview as being the size of a pea. What did they think to that? I asked. Aldous’ wife told me the information wasn’t new to her, she had heard it on T.V. Nationwide. She thought it was wonderful of the princess to possess this degree of self-knowledge and to own up to it openly. The princess had greatly risen in her esteem, Aldous’ wife said. Very honest indeed, Aldous remarked. She will be in a leading position later on, his wife said with satisfaction. I confirmed that this latter idea had come to my mind, too, when reading the article in question…
In any case, Aldous went on with authority, the size of the brain doesn’t mean anything. Elephants with their huge heads are supposed to be no more intelligent than dolphins. I said, we should stay within a certain species, the human one, for example, and draw comparisons there. Unfortunately he didn’t know anything about that.

What’s the point of being cynical, Aldous said, he could be cynical, too …
I’m not cynical, I interrupted him. He wasn’t cynical, he pursued, he was … He was looking for a word and came up with ‘bitter’. He was bitter, he said, because they had a daughter who didn’t look at them and a son who gradually ruined himself. I told him there was no reason why he should be bitter. He was frustrated, because he had done what he could for them without achieving anything. He said, I’m not bitter … and was looking for a word to describe his feelings. His wife helped out: a kind of sadness … They dropped the subject.

My husband urged me to make tea and said I could cheer them up by reading the other essay, the one about the book. He was in fact ready to give them an introduction to it, but I stopped him, since he had read neither the book nor the essay. He then volunteered to send them to sleep by playing the piano while I was in the kitchen. Aldous seemed very tired and used the opportunity to lie down, resting his head on his wife’s chest, from which position he arose when I came back in. I poured the tea, supplied everyone with a piece of cake and then promised them some real excitement this time. They became more and more awake as I progressed with the reading. It was about a book which from a literary point of view had to be called trash and which was peppered with references to sex, some very detailed description of it, too.

Aldous and his wife were aghast. Sex in this context is only a means of achieving pleasure, he pointed out, people forget it is for procreation. I said, this was exactly the Church’s teaching. However, not many people looked at it that way. They do it for pleasure. What about sex in marriage, by the way? He said, sex in marriage was a different thing and gave us a little lecture about two beings amalgamating and spirits mingling and similar things. There was a spiritual component to it, he said, and that was the difference. Unless you call it all hogwash, he ended. It is all hogwash, I said, glad about the new-found word. He was taken aback and I don’t know what they thought about my marriage, they didn’t tell me, I imagine they felt sorry for my husband. I explained what I meant, the old tale of egoism and personal satisfaction, but they didn’t give me any credit.

They were both getting tired now. Aldous’ wife thanked us for a ‘lovely’ evening without looking at either of us which I thought was unfair to my husband and we opened the door for them. It was cold. Mid-October. Aldous said: Winter draw(er)s on! looking at me expectantly. I laughed at him: Some people have a one-track-mind. He laughed back, pleased that I had understood his little joke. I gave him a hearty bye-bye kiss on his cheek. The same to his wife. I said, hope you’ll go to church tomorrow. Aldous’ wife replied: Only if you go!.

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Reading Aloud 2

The Vicar

He was in a friendly, sociable mood, I hardly know him any other way, when I bumped into him this morning. He was carrying a flower stand on his shoulder as he was coming from the church. Left over from a wedding, he explained, nobody picked it up afterwards, my job to return it. A vicar’s lot, I suppose.

I inquired after his wife, eager to receive some first-hand information. We were standing by the churchyard wall, a nice wall out of flint stone, with plenty of cars parked next to it. Last year somebody ran a car into it causing a large hole which had to be repaired, of course, I don’t know at what cost. Ever since, I imagine, the Vicar is nervous about the wall: All these women every morning, taking their children to the C.o.E. school next door to the church, parking, so many in a long line, reversing, turning, cutting it fine, the Viocar was muttering a lot of comment under his breath, I didn’t understand half of it, rolling his eyes, pretending comical despair and eventually deciding to turn his back on the scene of action. He was then able to inform me about his wife’s state of health. He was factual about it, using medical terminology, down to earth, cool, smiling.

His wife was obviously very poorly, putting them both to a lot of trouble which they had to bear and that was it. The problem would be solved sooner or later by an operation. They had seen a specialist in a clinic reserved for clergy, Mrs Rivers had told me they had seen somebody privately and had concluded they must have private income, and he explained this meant that his wife was treated ‘like a private patient’. The trouble was that the operation would have to be in a different hospital, which might mean a long wait. There were more tests to be done before she could have surgery, and while they were waiting, she was resting in a Christian home of some kind. I felt sorry for them both: she out of action for an unknown time, he having to cope on his own. He was fine, he protested, busy all the time. Stops you from thinking, I said. How was I, he asked, and didn’t insist too much, because I was visibly fine, too. I asked him to give his wife my ‘love’, I thought it had better be ‘love’ for a vicar, and I would keep my fingers crossed for her. I didn’t offer any other support, for after all what are his parishioners there for ?

He picked up his flower stand, smiled very warmly, I thought, pushed his hat a little with his right hand which reminded me that in former times gentlemen used to raise their hat for the ladies, bestowed blessings on me, and we parted.

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Reading Aloud 2

Four at a time

What a day! First thing this morning I bumped into New Friend. I recognized his red car and round head from a distance. We waved to one another at the crossroads. I was dearly hoping he would go the other way, not being in a mood for talking nor indeed seeing him. He obliged and I heard later that he offered my son a lift to school which my son, having nearly arrived, declined. Next thing, I bumped into the Vicar whom I questioned about his wife’s health. After that, I spent quite a lot of time thinking about Yan whom I wanted to do work for me. Last thing, in the evening, the telephone rang at an unusual time. It was Paul whom I hadn’t seen nor heard for about three months, I had in fact nearly forgotten him.

I liked the sound of his voice over the telephone and the way he said my name. He was apologetic about his long silence, business of all kinds, the usual, I told him that time had passed quickly for me, too, no lack of occupation either. We exchanged insignificant news, as good an excuse as any to stay on the phone, and then he wondered, would my husband have any time to spare to help arrange chairs for the concert next day but one in the school hall. I was pretty sure my husband wouldn’t like that idea and offered my son’s help. I never thought I could have offered myself. Of course, I tend to be busy on a Saturday. My husband would have been surprized for one … Paul accepted my son. Then he said that in the next month or two he was hoping to see more of me. How convenient this word ‘you’ in English, singular or plural. It sounded a nice proposition. We would all meet up at the concert to start with. I said, bye-bye, and he, cheerio.

I decided to send my two daughters along with my son. Three helpers, that’s not a bad contribution from one family, is it ? Would there be any free tickets around, for the children, I wondered. I don’t know why he boosted my spirits, but he did.

 

Interlude

The children came back with free tickets and we all went in the evening.
It was pretty uneventful altogether, but useful from a practical point of view : I was able to renew my contact with Yan and Paul. I arranged for Yan to come and see me because I needed help with language work and for Paul to come to our house because his wife had told us he needed practice with a song he was going to sing in my language at a concert in the near future. In addition to that, Aldous’ wife asked us round to their house on the evening following the concert. I welcomed the idea because I heard that Yan and Paul with their wives would be there, too. It sounded a promising gathering and I wondered on the quiet how the seating would be arranged.

Evening at Aldous’

Steve and I arrived at Aldous’ last. There was the usual semi-circle round the fire, a few chairs and a settee, the latter occupied on our arrival by Yan and Paul with a free space between them. Aldous was in an armchair this side of the settee and all the ladies plus a free chair on the other side. Our hostess assigned us our seats : I was to join “the boys”, one short, one long, on the settee and Steve the ladies at the other end of the room. It suited everybody fine.

The boys gave me a warm welcome and I settled down between them. Contact was made straight away on either side. We had to be careful, though, because unfortunately the lights were fully on. So we crossed our legs, casually put down hands in the gaps between us, moved arms, stretched or bent, from time to time, occasionally changed position slightly, leaning backward or forward or to one side or the other as was convenient, disengaging completely at times and always keeping a close eye on everybody else.

It worked very well, even if it was a little hot now and then. I slapped the boys’ knees once or twice in the heat of the discussion. Yan found an excuse to pretend to want to strangle me, putting both his large hands round my neck, it felt lovely. I said so and everybody laughed. I think he did it when Aldous proposed a motion following which women should be excluded from higher education, so that they couldn’t answer men back. It was noted that this came too late in my case, I thanked him for the compliment, and hence the symbolical punishment.

I didn’t take part very much in the conversation initially, firstly being occupied with other things and secondly not too interested in discussing concerts and related matters. I did manage to put in a request for an explanation of the term ‘White Elephant’ which my husband hadn’t been able to give and was informed that it designated any useless, obsolete object. Like a mini-skirt, Aldous elucidated, you wouldn’t wear it now, being out of fashion, and would therefore get rid of it. I appreciated the choice of example and noticed that my skirt had slipped up a bit. I explained we didn’t have sales of useless objects in my country… For some reason Yan’s wife didn’t like this remark and pointed out that an object useless for one person might well serve a purpose for another one, like lovers of candlesticks, for example, who have these things all over their houses and just can’t get enough of them, they would turn to a White Elephant sale. I could see her point.

The conversation seemed to stagnate a little and I said to Aldous, we hadn’t had an argument yet. He said indeed not and did I have a provocative statement to make, he would treat it like a bull faced with a red cloth. The idea frightened me a bit and I held back for a while. Aldous himself then volunteered what he called a provocative statement, I forget what it was about, and Yan after him. I had an excuse now to come forward with mine. Much to my surprize everybody stopped talking, and it came over very clearly. Here it is : ‘For nearly two thousand years mankind has been in the clutches of Christianity.’ The success was quite unexpected. Aldous was speechless for a few seconds, rolling his eyes, drawing deep breaths, giving me looks of a peculiar kind and then wanting me to substitute the word ‘Christianity’ by ‘Church’. I refused. In the ensuing discussion the boys manly defended me against Aldous, and the point came when Paul nudged me, whispering that Aldous was on his own, now. Everybody agreed in the end that mankind would have to improve very much. How could that be done ?

Aldous being a scientist thought of some well-known author, Aldous Huxley, who had experimented on himself with a drug, mescaline. Administered in the right dose, it had a beneficial effect on his moral behaviour, the author claimed. Aldous liked the idea. All the processes in our body, physical, mental, psychical, are of a chemical nature, anyway. Add another chemical, and he could well believe that it had an impact on our attitude to life. Choose the right one and administer it to everybody – how about that for a revolution ? A pleasant one at that, people loving their neighbours, etc. It might be worth an experiment. What was there to lose ? He looked enthusiastic, visualizing chemistry as the ruler of the world. It was pointed out that this would spare mankind the effort of “pulling their finger out”. Aldous was pessimistic: would mankind ever do that ? If the state of affairs could be improved, would not the end justify the means ? Would it not be better to have little rather than nothing at all ? We may as well blow ourselves up, Paul’s wife, a strong-willed and resolute lady, remarked. What would you prefer, Aldous asked her, have everybody blown up or the situation improved by administering the right chemical ? She could not be moved, not even by Aldous. He became thoughtful after that.

The conversation turned to a less controversial chemical, Zn, which had had a wonderful effect on many people’s health. Aldous’ wife showed us a thank-you letter Aldous had received from a young lady who claimed to “love him without ever having met him” and to be “eternally grateful” to him. The letter was passed round so that everybody could read it. It could have been read out aloud, I suppose, to save time. We were all impressed and wanted to see Aldous’ book, written by a journalist and published recently. He only had one copy which was passed round, too. I looked at it together with Paul. I was struck by the cover design of which I caught a glimpse before Paul turned over to the last page, he always looked at the last sentence first, he said. The words on the cover that had caught my attention at first sight were “male fertility” as one of the fields where Zn was successfully used. I asked Aldous, had he had anything to do with the cover design? He denied it. Later I noticed a broad grin on my husband’s face, he had just noticed the same thing. Aldous then gave a long monologue about the well-known subject Zn. He was really at ease now, the previous disturbances forgotten, and we were in fact privileged by a little private lecture delivered with authority from the depth of a large armchair. Of course, the subject matter was his “daily bread”. We asked for more copies of the book. How could they be obtained ? Go to the bookshops! Make them order it for you! Let them know there’s a demand for it! Aldous’ wife suggested. She is practically-minded. He would get 10p for every copy sold, Aldous laughed. I thought that was a bit mean. No free copies for their friends! On the other hand, there is a precedent, now, which I can follow myself when the time comes. Aldous explained he had sent all the free copies he had been given to medical people which is, of course, more important.

Yan was looking tired and a bit bored. He didn’t have his watch with him and tried to look at mine. I didn’t have one, either, and we had to consult Paul: It was well into the next day!
The meeting ended with the usual kissing ritual, all the ladies kissing all the gentlemen and vice versa. I quite enjoyed it. Aldous’ wife let us out with the words “ And don’t forget: buy a copy each!”

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Reading Aloud 2

Yan

I saw him at the concert and asked for help with the English part of a manuscript written by a foreign friend of mine. He willingly obliged, but … He was looking round. Where was she ? Do you have to ask your upper headquarters first? I asked him. No, he said determined, took out his diary and found a free day. His wife now turned up and he applied to her. Did she know of anything that might prevent him from keeping his appointment with me ? She shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t and in any case it was up to him.

On the morning of the appointed day the telephone rang. I wasn’t half surprized. In all probability Yan had struck a problem. It was a matter of knowing which. A business call, he said. He had told them to ring before 10am which meant that he would be a bit later than planned. I was sorry to be a nuisance and in the way of his business, but he protested, on the contrary, it would be a ‘lovely escape’ for him. I managed to nearly finish the minutes of Sunday night’s meeting before he came.

Not having seen me for a few weeks, he told me what had kept him so busy. Then he asked me for my comment on that last evening at Aldous’. I told him, my report about it was nearly ready and he immediately requested to read it. However, I didn’t want to overcharge his digestive system and declined, until it was typed, anyway. I had liked the seating arrangement on that evening, I told him. How nice to be seated between two people I liked. Yes, he said, he was only getting to know Paul, but he certainly thought Paul was a … I forget how exactly he qualified him, but it was appreciative. Paul had contributed a lot of useful ideas to the discussion, Yan thought, apart from you, he added, and seemed very liberal in his views, as opposed to his wife who had appeared to be a ‘strict’ Christian. What was that article about the Church? he then asked, Aldous’ wife had alluded to it several times, it must have upset her. I explained about the depressing evening we had had with them, and he remarked that upsetting people would put them off. We agreed that it was best not to have them on their own, but rather in a ‘diluted’ state, that is, in the company of others. It had worked nicely at the last meeting in Aldous’ house and Yan had found it a pleasant change to have something like an intelligent discussion.

Where’s the work then, he asked next. I pointed to the manuscript laid out on the table. Things I owe to my foreign friend! Without his help I wouldn’t have seen half as much of Yan as I have done. I might never have got to know him the way I have. We sat down at the table side by side. He put his arm round me and wondered how he was going to concentrate. I told him I had no problem. He withdrew his arm, kissed me and then we started work, I reading aloud and he quietly. He said that hearing it at the same time enabled him to take it in more quickly.

He found one or two foreign-sounding phrases which he would have to ponder about at leisure and was very interested by the subject matter altogether. He was learning a lot, he said, and quite forgot his initial suggestion to do it on his own at home, thus leaving us free to do something else, too, like listening to music. He became quite engrossed and turned the pages quickly. After half an hour he thought, my throat must be dry and what about a cup of tea? The idea had never occurred to me. He gave me another big kiss and I made the foolish remark ‘isn’t it lovely’. He answered ‘once in a while’! I got up to make the tea, musing about his last statement. I had to give him, it was honest. I would hate to bore him …

We put the manuscript away, he was going to take it home, along with my own manuscript which I wanted to leave with him while we were away on holiday, and I poured the tea. How about reading something from my own works, he suggested. I was reluctant. He had told me my writings might upset people. I had two little essays about him precisely which after a little hesitation I decided he would have to digest. He buried his head in his hands when he heard what in my experience the word ‘soon’ as used by him meant and following this logically, the expression ‘very soon’. He interrupted me once, saying he hadn’t said that, had he? I told him that in this respect he resembled my husband about whom I write occasionally and who also denies having said things I quote. Unfortunately I don’t have tapes to back me up. Yan thought that half of what I’d written was made up and I was forced to tell him, I didn’t know that I had a good imagination, but certainly a good memory.

I had to interrupt the reading in the end, because I had to go and meet my daughter. Yan packed everything up, saying it would make a ‘lovely novel’, wouldn’t it. I was too much in a hurry to appreciate the compliment at the time, but I did later on. I asked him to take me to school, because it was late. Before we left the house he wondered, should he kiss me bye-bye, would I write about this kiss afterwards ? I said, whether or not he kissed me was his business and whether or not I wrote about it was mine. He laughed and kissed me. You would have fooled me forty years ago, he said.

We picked up my daughter and Yan took us to where we had to be. We arrived in good time. As for him, he would be late home for lunch. I expressed my concern about him being in trouble as a result. He gave me a deep look and a firm ‘no’.

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Reading Aloud 2

The Greengrocer’s wife

She really let her hair down when I went to their shop in the afternoon. Yan had been to see me in the morning. I had to meet my daughter at lunch-time. Therefore my weekly visit to the post office had to be postponed until the afternoon. I remembered too late that it was half-day closing for the post office part of their shop. However, had not the Greengrocer himself told me that I would always be served, closed or not ? Of course, his wife didn’t know that! She was on her own when I arrived.

I cautiously put forward my request. She knew anyway what I wanted. She was standing on top of some steps arranging tins of pet-food. I ended with the words ‘do you think you could make an exception for me?’. She looked down at me. Suddenly her face became considerably distorted, beyond recognition almost, and she snarled at me : why should I ? It made me completely speechless, it was so unexpected. I had no idea what to say and just looked back at her, thinking what a handsome woman she would be, considering her age, had it not been for her distorted features. She looked away and went on: at least you’re putting it nicely, others just come in and demand to be served, let me finish this job and I’ll get you your money, let’s hope my husband hasn’t locked it up. Has he gone out? I asked. Why? she asked back, did you want him for any reason? Certainly not, I hastened to reassure her, but he may have the key for the money-box. He’s at home alright, she said, having a well-deserved rest. I’d have to get the key from him.

We were lucky, for the key was in the lock and the whole transaction didn’t take longer than a minute or two. She had become very friendly, now, and told me about a visit she had paid to Mrs Rivers a few days ago, having bread to deliver. She had seen the no-turning plate on Mrs Rivers’ gate-post and in spite of that had been forced to turn precisely there in order to avoid another car. Mrs Rivers had been standing in her drive all the time and the Greengrocer’s wife had expected her to pounce on her and accuse her of the offence any second. However, Mrs Rivers hadn’t done that. She got out of her car and Mrs Rivers didn’t recognize her, she had to give name, address and everything to identify herself. I said Mrs Rivers would no doubt tell me how embarrassed she was about that, but she was nearly blind. No need to be embarrassed, the Greengrocer’s wife said generously. I thanked her with a smile for having served me and left the shop.

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Reading Aloud 2

Evening with Paul

It was a foul night when he came. Rain and high winds. Like the previous time, he said, which was about four months ago. I opened the door for him, my husband being busy at the piano and the children upstairs, and he came in smiling, his music under his arm. I took his coat from him, told him that I had nearly forgotten him, he had an answer to that, and led the way into the living-room. We all sat near the fire. My husband brought our visitor a glass of wine, red wine from the Pyrenees. It was the only glass on the table and looked a bit funny on its own. I requested one for myself. Besides, I like red wine. My husband didn’t have any without giving a reason.

I drank to Paul’s health and then taught him the correct pronunciation of the words he wanted to sing in my language. My husband was mending some sports equipment while waiting to play the piano for Paul. However, Paul liked it on the settee and stayed put for quite a long time in spite of my husband having stood up. The language problem mastered, Paul started speaking about sport. My husband sat down again. Yes, he said, he used to do quite a lot of this particular sport. You, too? Paul turned to me. I explained I was tired in the evening, having done all my sport during the day, rushing up and down the stairs doing the housework. My husband pulled a face without making any comment. His expression showed clearly what he meant. Paul was amused. Is that what she does? he asked laughing. My husband looked not very pleased.

We passed on to another sport and eventually to music, the real reason for Paul’s coming. I stood between them, checking tune and words. There was scope for improvement. We spent quite a long time getting everything right, my husband visibly tired. We went back to our seats and talked for another hour or so before Paul left. It had been too long an evening really, my husband said. I didn’t think so.

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Reading Aloud 2

Conversation with Paul

I hope you weren’t cold last night. When you had left, we found the living-room very cold. I had a lovely evening with you, much nicer than with the recorder group. My true talents aren’t with recorder-playing. You made me feel good, taking me into your arms, I could have stayed there a bit longer. Have you any idea what accounts for the attraction ? Why on earth should one be struck by somebody, quite suddenly ? Pleasant smiles are a help, I suppose.

There’s always the possibility of an illusion wearing off after a while, in other words, one can be fooled. I would like to think I’m not.

Something new is interesting, until it isn’t new anymore. Something difficult to obtain has a certain attraction. Having to keep a secret is not without a thrill.

I liked our conversation about a certain rough game. I liked my husband’s description of himself in an exposed position in the ‘medley’: feet off the ground, neck twisted one way and totally unable to see the ball!

Did you know I have a special relationship with your country through my birthday ?
Why should ladies play this game ? Maybe they want to let off steam, too. What kind of steam ? Perhaps they do it simply for equality’s sake. With a man for a coach!

Your singing went well. Not too well initially. You explained you weren’t relaxed. I was glad my husband didn’t ask why not, he is not inquisitive normally. No doubt you would have found a suitable answer. As for my language, to really do it well you need a lot more practice. Fortunately there are all these Lieder to work on, quite a thick volume. It should keep us going for a while.

Social conventions are a nuisance. They must be observed, or else there will be trouble. It seems we have them not without a reason. I don’t know what the reason is. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but people will be hurt. It would be foolish to ask for trouble. Would it be worth taking the risk ?

Is it not just the satisfying effect of a novelty, wearing off with repetition ? An attraction that wears off is not worth having ! Society begrudges us something that might not be worth having. Pleasant at the time, not lasting. Would you like to be married to me ???

Can energy be redirected ? Put to use in a more worthwhile way ? Is there a more worthwhile way ? Is there an attraction other than the obvious one ? What can a woman do for a man other than ‘rushing up and down the stairs, doing the housework’, etc. ? Something more lasting, independent of the time-factor ? I have no idea. But there must be something …

What is a ‘fallen angel’ ? It doesn’t sound nice. Not the same angel as before. What accounts for the difference ? Something ties us down, stops us from getting up, grounded, stranded, unable to move … You may have heard of Loreley, a most beautiful lady specialized in leading men astray, destroying them by means of her charms. A legend, just a legend … Or Calypso who held Ulysses. Peer Gynt was lucky, and the Flying Dutchman. And Papageno … She saves his life.

I learnt a lot about biscuits last night, your employer, although their nutritional quality is still an open issue. Not too important, really. I want you to try my bread some time. See you.

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Reading Aloud 2

Johnie and his wife

They came to see me when I was up to my neck in housework. I was glad Johnie saw me like that for once. They returned to me my essay about the Church which at their request I had let them read. Johnie was not afraid of admitting that he had only ‘skimmed’ through it which disappointed me a little. He had discovered a few ‘points’, he said, without going into detail. His wife said, she had not taken offence at it.

I don’t see why anybody should. All I had done was list well-known facts and observations. She could see that people might take offence at it, she went on. I pointed out, this could only be, because they didn’t like the picture they saw which didn’t coincide with their own ideas. If they take offence, it’s not the picture’s fault. She said, we all have our defences where we’re touchy … We can be hurt … I reminded her that we’d been through all this on a previous occasion.

Johnie said, strictly speaking one should never take offence. I try not to, but of course I’m only human. You can’t say, Johnie went on, that whenever somebody hurts you, it’s your own fault. I said, yes, I thought it was. Being hurt is an emotional reaction, not a rational one. There is no reason for bringing in emotions. I reminded them that they had agreed previously to consider ‘being hurt’ a weakness. Wouldn’t it be much better people didn’t take offence ? Oh, I’m getting better at that, Johnie’s wife said, I’m far less easily hurt than I used to. Johnie said, but if somebody comes in and calls your children all sorts of names ? That’s hurtful. I said, he knew it wasn’t true, how could it worry him ? He could not force the other person to hold the same opinion, of course.

His wife passed on to my essay about the Church. She agreed that on the whole there was a lot to be criticized. But you say it with tongue in cheek, you want to laugh about it, don’t you ? I was very pleased about being understood so well. She gave me I didn’t damn the Church, she had certainly not seen it like that at all. I certainly did nothing of the kind, I said, I just showed what a human and earthly body the Church is. As a consequence, I would say that it cannot lay any claim to spirituality of whatever kind. Johnie’s wife didn’t like the conclusion I had drawn from the Church’s human and earthly character. There is a spirituality, she said. Look at my sister’s Church. They have female priests (we had briefly touched the hotly debated issue of female ordination), they bring a new … status … more loving, more … spiritual, if you like … I said I didn’t like that. Alright, she said, more gentle then … At this point I looked at Johnie who seemed doubtful. Anyway, they apparently all have a lovely relationship with one another, no oppression like here … I said it sounded lovely and I had always held that the Church can do important social work and create a better social atmosphere. But I still didn’t see the connection with spirituality. She repeated that spirituality was there and we left it at that.

We went on to discussing the disadvantages of patriarchy and the inequality of women even nowadays. This is a special concern of Johnie’s wife. She had written an interesting essay which summed up the main tendencies in this field. I said, her problem wasn’t one for me, because I simply please myself and seem to manage. As far as patriarchy was concerned, we might well owe that to Christian religion. Christ was a man after all. She said he would have to be one or the other, but I couldn’t pin that on Christ! Johnie also said I couldn’t do that, patriarchy being far older than that, and he looked pleased. I was far from ‘pinning’ it on Christ, I pointed out.

We then talked about the impending holidays and various travel plans. The weather forecast for the next day when we were due to go to the West Country wasn’t too good, I heard from Johnie. I told him that according to a saying in my country ‘the sky is always blue when angels travel’. He laughed and I asked why. He said he had assumed I didn’t believe in angels. What did he base his assumption on, I asked, I wasn’t aware of having discussed this subject at all. He made no comment.

They took their leave and Johnie’s wife was hoping I hadn’t taken offence at anything she had said. I laughed and reminded her of the attitude I take : I blame myself.
The idea that I might have hurt her had never come to me. I hope I haven’t.

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Reading Aloud 2

Hurt

My husband doesn’t think too much of my concept of ‘being hurt’. I told him about the conversation I had had with Johnie and his wife and he was rather in favour of the critics who said that my idea was unrealistic, not in keeping with human nature. It would require super-human efforts to overcome hurt feelings. A sage might be able to, one person in fifteen million, Christ was probably never hurt, what about Rudolf Steiner himself, my husband respects him highly, even he was supposed to have been hurt, perhaps ‘disappointed’ would be a better word.

Being hurt is a weakness, I said. My husband shrugged his shoulders, saying neither yes nor no. I reminded him of our discussion with Aldous who had maintained that being hurt emotionally is no different from being hurt physically. One can’t avoid being hurt physically, if someone is determined to do it. How does one avoid being hurt emotionally? Impossible! My husband was much in sympathy with Aldous’ view. He told me I was expecting too much of mankind. Simply unrealistic. No chance at all.
But how about doing the experiment personally ? A deliberate exercize in controlling one’s hurt feelings by analyzing what really causes them ! He shrugged his shoulders once more, refusing further comment.

We were on holiday when discussing this, staying in a large caravan with an unpleasant little parents’ bedroom tucked away at one end. The bed was small. When we got into it, Steve wondered whether I would be able to sleep there. He knows I like a certain amount of room. It was a dreadful night : mattress too springy, husband too close, bedding riding down, if it wasn’t lost altogether through turning-over action. I told my husband that he could have the bed to himself for the rest of our stay, I would make use of the living-room settee for myself. He looked profoundly disgusted and turned away from me. I explained the advantages of such a procedure. He wouldn’t listen. I said, he, too, would sleep better with more room, but he didn’t think so. I asked, did he want me to sleep well ? He said, we managed last year, why shouldn’t we manage now ? No doubt he thought I should try a bit harder. However, I didn’t feel like wasting another night. My husband looked very resentful by now and I dropped this delicate subject.

I had a little discussion with my eldest daughter about it, though. She decided to ask him, did he want me to sleep well, yes or no ! However, I am pleased to say her intervention turned out to be unnecessary. My husband having worn himself out by a strenuous walk, was so tired in the evening that he had no energy left to offer resistance. He withdrew into his bedroom where I had made up his bed with great care, not before having kissed the children and me ‘good night’, he tends to kiss me last, I suppose it’s last not least. I slept very well that night and he ‘a little better’, he said cautiously. He had lost his blankets unfortunately, I hadn’t lost mine, which I rather welcomed. It means that he will have to make his own bed next time to make sure it’s well done.

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Reading Aloud 2

Men and women

I discussed the subject of marriage with my husband when we went for an early morning walk recently. We’ve had many years of marriage, a not unsuccessful, reasonably stable and efficient partnership, better than many others. My husband is a great believer in the traditional idea promoted by Church and Society that a woman belongs to her man and has to be at his disposal whenever he wants it. When marrying her, he accepts after all to be tied for life and to provide for her. In return she promises to ‘like, honour and obey’ him, or similar terms, which means that a husband, for taking on all these duties, has a right, too, doesn’t he, and the woman is held to oblige, isn’t she.

My husband puts this as a statement rather than a question, knowing that he has Society on his side. I don’t deny it. In fact as far as I know, I comply fully with the rules of our society. He doesn’t think it’s as easy as that, for he remarks ‘only when you want to’. I say ‘obviously’. He laughs and says ‘there you are …’.

It’s not an easy life for a husband. He definitely doesn’t find the situation too much to his liking. He lets me know eventually that a man would really ‘like’ many women. I am relieved to hear it, because I can now safely tell him that a woman really would ‘like’ many men ! My husband is somewhat surprized at that, he hadn’t considered this. He is at a loss, now. What is the answer ? I can’t help him.

We’ve arrived back home. Time for breakfast.

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Reading Aloud 2

Father and son

We went for a walk, my husband, my son, the dog and I. It was raining and the ground slippery. My husband took over the dog and walked in front, thus enabling my son to look after me. It’s nice to have a big son. Mine is fifteen at the moment. He holds out his hand to me in difficult places. He opens gates for me and closes them. He draws my attention to different things. He greets me in the morning with a smile and a kiss on the cheek, on holiday, anyway, much to his sisters’ disgust. I like it. I suppose I’m getting soft.

We all have toothbrushes of different colours. I had forgotten which was mine. Was it the red one ? It must be, my husband said, that’s the colour for you.

The leader of the House of Lords himself referred to the eleventh commandment which governs our society : Do not be found out. Asked by a journalist whether this means that a crime which isn’t found out isn’t a crime, he replied with a smile that this was so. He must know, being a professional man.

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Reading Aloud 2

Hell has no fury like a woman scorned

My husband threw this sentence at me when I told him that I wouldn’t ever put my foot into Nessie’s house again. We then had an interesting discussion which we started in the living-room and continued in bed, because it was late. It had been caused by a telephone call we received at 10pm. Who on earth calls at that time of day ? In former years I would have known it must be Nessie’s wife. However, I was totally out of touch with her. In fact I had done little less than snub her, ignoring her approaches and not returning a visit she had paid me some seven months ago, not that she had stayed long, conversation had never been easy, a gesture on her part, I suppose.

I answered the telephone and it was Nessie’s wife. I didn’t recognize her voice at first, not being used to it any more. She said she wanted to say bye-bye before setting off with Nessie on a tour round the world which would keep them away for four months. She expected to see her friends again, she said, in the spring. Nessie would be back a month earlier. She inquired how we all were, the children, my husband and no doubt I was busy. I was glad she put the answer into my mouth and assumed that they, too, were well. Yes, we’re fine, she said. I inquired after the bees. I heard they had all survived which was very lucky considering the winter we’d been through. I wished her good luck and good fun on her journey, for which she warmly thanked me, sending her ‘love’ to everybody at my end. I suppose I could have sent my love to the bees, but wasn’t present-minded enough. So I said no more and we rang off.

Returning into the living-room I wondered aloud why she should want to stay in touch with me. My husband said we had quite a lot in common : food, medicine … I declared I wasn’t interested in food any more. My husband said this was new to him. I said that nowadays I eat what I want to at home, not worrying at all what I had elsewhere. This seemed to have escaped his attention. He was silent. I asked him how he felt about my visiting Nessie and his wife after all that had happened. Had he not every interest in my not going ? He shrugged his shoulders saying, why should he.

In the ensuing discussion it turned out that it was perfectly natural for a man to look at a woman, so natural, it was unfair to take offence. Where do any ill feelings and upsets originate then ? I asked. He told me it depended on how the woman reacted to any passes made at her. Was it not natural for a woman to look at a man ? I asked. After a little hesitation he conceded that. Strictly speaking there could be no grounds for any ill feelings then, I concluded. He found this difficult to accept.
One very upsetting factor for him, I understood, was the enormous difference in age between the man and the woman in question. How can a woman want an old man in preference to her husband ? If at least the man was in the same age group, he would be able to understand. I asked, are you sure ? He wasn’t.
There was another disturbing element. The fact that an old man or maybe another man of whatever age held an attraction for me that he could not offer, made him jealous, he said. I pointed out, this other man couldn’t help it and therefore could hardly be blamed. He agreed. Can the woman help this state of affairs ? Probably not, he said. What about ill feelings against the woman then ? They are clearly not justified ! He was reluctant to admit that. Instead he tried to argue that there were ‘feelings’ involved with one partner, the legal one, of course, and plain physical satisfaction with everybody else. I reminded him of what I had heard from him on a previous occasion : a man would like many women, perfectly natural ! Where did feelings come in ? I failed to see this and he couldn’t enlighten me either.

During our holiday we had watched a T.V. programme where people were interviewed about their relationship with the opposite sex. Were they happy with just one partner ? One youngster, hardly twenty years old, had said with refreshing openness : Oh no ! It would be too boring ! My husband didn’t say any more, except that he remembered the programme, too. He was cold. The drop in temperature, of course. I should have put another blanket on the bed. And then the chilling conversation … He got up and went downstairs which alarmed me, because I didn’t know whether he would come back. He did, with another blanket. The whole bed was uncomfortable. Time we did something about the mattress. Hopelessly out of shape and much too hard. The springy synthetic mattress he had used on holiday had apparently been heaven compared to this.

We said ‘good night’ and caught a few hours sleep. In the morning he was tired. Why was that, the children asked him and were told he hadn’t slept enough because ‘Mummy likes to engage me in philosophical discussions in bed’.

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Reading Aloud 2

Ann Worrall, A Flash of Blue

The Author has a certain idea of how we should meet blows of destiny, in this case the impending death of a relatively young man, Matt, the father of two children aged eight and ‘not quite fourteen’. The book covers the three months Matt is allowed to live from learning the diagnosis of his disease. It analyzes the psychology of the people involved with such a case, their reactions, their behaviour at various stages and their mastering, or supposed mastering, of the situation in the end.

The narrator of the story is Shelley, the thirteen year old daughter. As it turns out, the Author is not interested in child-psychology, but only in putting over her own, rationalized views. The narrator is therefore not a living person, a character, but a stock-figure, a mouthpiece used to convey to the readers, children(!), the teachings of conventional psychology mingled with a few personal and totally irrelevant views and beliefs the Author holds. In some cases straight forward preaching is hardly disguized, one can tell the teacher.

The Author stresses the ordinariness of the family in question, safely embedded in the consumer society with cornflakes for breakfast, T.V., shopping at Tesco’s, etc. One family out of many. Nothing ‘unusual’ about them, ‘except’ that they ‘all get on rather well’ which probably has a positive sense, approving of a good example, but could not very well be the statement of a thirteen year old, if only for want of experience.

A tragedy like theirs could happen to anybody, it is noted, and the Author draws a clear picture of what ‘normally’ happens under such circumstances, following basic laws of psychology.

The motto is to coolly analyze all the reactions, break them down into their psychological components, thus enabling people to ‘digest’ their problem piece by piece :

1° First of all there is the fear of dreaded words like ‘die’ and ‘death’. Psychology teaches us that we have to learn to say them aloud, voice our troubles. This takes the sting out of them. The family duly goes through this process.

2° The next important thing is to laugh. It relaxes the tension and stops people from pitying themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter how the laughter is produced, in extreme situations people will accept anything, even the most banal remark, if it will remove them from their troubles. The family willingly goes through this process, too :
p.44 Matt: ‘When I pop off, you’ll be sickeningly wealthy with all the insurance money.’
p.45 Shelley; ‘Making jokes about Matt’s death was one important way we had developed for coping with the situation.’
p.45 Matt: ‘Unless you laugh at Death, He gets the upper hand.’

3° Another important psychological need under such circumstances is the presence of something one can hold on to and put one’s faith in, a slightly tricky problem for non-religious people like the family involved. However, the Author provides the ‘flash of blue’ without ever insinuating what it does for them. A patch of blue in the sky, a blue kingfisher and at the end, all’s well that ends well, a blue opal, a posthumous present from her father, a deus ex machina for lucky Shelley, which solves her problem for her.
It is deplorable that the Author, who excels at analyzing a child’s emotions for her, does not explain how these perfectly ordinary, natural phenomena can have this tremendous effect of giving ‘hope and courage’. For want of anything better one has to create an illusion and hang on to it as long as one needs to. After that the good old proverb ‘Time is a great healer’ will come into its own. The Author doesn’t say this, but leaves us with the illusion. This is also true of the flowers on the grave which ‘cried a lesson of hope and courage’ (91). There is a fair jump from ‘flowers’ to ‘hope and courage’. Regrettably we don’t learn how it comes about, it could have been a fine piece of psychoanalysis. And what about the thrush that starts to sing in time at the funeral ???

4° A popular saying tells us that ‘there is always worse’. The Author makes skilful and discreet use of this. If you can find something worse, your own trouble will be bearable. Thus, Matt would rather die than live in perpetual ill health. Shelley’s brother Barney finds the grave of a three months old baby in the cemetery and comments: ‘Isn’t that sad!’ The implication is obvious and comforting.

5° Make the best out of a bad situation is also a popular recommendation. Thus, the cemetery is not such a bad place after all, it is ‘peaceful’ and ‘beautiful’. And Matt died ‘peacefully’ (85), which is nice to know. All the friends and neighbours behave in the nicest possible way, and the funeral is a pleasant event. We hear that Matt would have liked it. We are relieved to learn that the family has pulled through, even though Barney has taken to ‘bed-wetting’ which, we hear from Shelley, ‘betrayed his distress’ (88).

Here are a few examples of Shelley speaking, analyzing impressions and sensations on the spot. Not many adults do !
p.9 ‘She was wearing the pink one that makes her look fatter than she is’.
p.12 ‘Freda’s mouth dropped open in satisfying astonishment’.
p.13 ‘Fear made me angry’.
p.18 ‘Its bumpy, uneven surface gave me a sense of comfort’.
p.25 ‘This morning I moved smoothly from sleeping to consciousness, only a vague sense
of unease (the remnant probably of a dream forgotten on waking) marking the
difference between the two states.
p.30 ‘the down-to-earth optimism had always played such an important part in making me
feel secure’.
p.31 ‘It scared me so much that the scare turned to unreasoning anger’.
p.51 eight year old Barney: ‘death causes lots of upsets and changes things when you
don’t want them to be changed’.
And many more.

There is a fair deal of straight forward preaching.
p.50 Matt: ‘Sometimes we only see what we want to see.’
p.62 Matt: ‘Jealousy has got an ugly voice.’
p.22 Ellie: ‘We’re afraid you may dramatize the whole thing … go tragic … it wouldn’t be
good … Matt’s afraid that you may give way to anger and self-pity’.
And so on.

The Author would appear to be at odds with astronomy. She devotes a whole paragraph to the ‘new moon’ which shone, even through the tightly closed curtains’. (33)
She also makes Matt say that he would like to ‘sit on a star and see the universe turn’. (54)

She shows her appreciation of music by making Shelley call ‘people like Brahms and Holst more soothing composers’ (16) and an awareness of the problems Wagner deals with: ‘in Wotan’s world love has no power and yet without love power declines’, according to Shelley.

The Author likes to use unusual imagery, its unusualness being its only merit :
p.22 Shelley about peas she is eating: ‘Each burst with a sweet freshness that for me
was the taste of summer itself’.
p.24 ‘I wandered through the house, eventually settling, lizard-like, in a patch of sunlight.’
This is possible as an observation by an outsider, not as a statement from a child
about herself.
p.13 ‘Visions of funerals invaded my head; a box disappearing into the ground, flowers,
people in black clothes’.
p.65 ‘I struggled up from the black waters of sleep’. This is a child of thirteen speaking.

Sentimental platitudes and clichés are also in abundance :
p.5 ‘one day when the shadow falls and the process of learning to live under its shade’.
What does ‘its’ refer to ?
p.? ‘water beads glinted like jewels in his untidy mop of curls’.
Sounds like a worshipping woman rather than a child.
p.13 ‘I could remember him saying once that he would like a tree planted on him when he
died’.
p.69 Sh: ‘I wish you didn’t have to die.’
Matt: ‘Oh so do I, Shelley, so do I.’
Sh.: ‘I won’t ever forget you’.
Matt: ‘Good.’
p.91 ‘Good night, I whispered, gazing up to the stars.’

The last statement is certainly not in keeping with Matt’s view of death: ‘we die, rot and thus create new life’. It reveals basic helplessness where death is concerned and Matt’s family revert to religion (church funeral) for want of something else, accepting to be comforted by social conventions, self-created illusions and suitable jokes at the right moment.

The book wants to show its young readers what happens when we are struck by disaster and how to accept it, cope with it and digest it. With the help of popular psychology, social conventions and home-made illusions one can reconcile oneself to something terrible. We have no choice after all.

Hopefully the Author will come forward with more books about how to accept murder, war, the Bomb, etc. etc.
May I suggest to introduce a small amount of freshness and spontaneity for better reading. My younger daughter, twelve, called the book ‘depressing’, my elder daughter, sixteen, ‘dry and boring’.

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Reading Aloud 2

Paul

I saw Paul for the fourth time within three weeks. We nearly had a few minutes together on our own, my family had gone out for half an hour to watch fireworks, I having promised to keep Paul happy in case he came before they had returned. However, he was late and we missed that chance and have to wait for another one.

I have to keep communicating with him by writing, I normally manage to slip a piece of paper into his pocket unseen. He calls it ‘notes’ and has paid me compliments on them. Since they are of an explosive nature, he has to take good care of them. I have to put them away, he said when my husband had disappeared for a few moments to fetch drinks, I can’t keep them in pockets, too exposed. But I read them several times over before putting them away. I was pleased to hear he did his homework properly and wondered what he meant by ‘putting away’. Something stopped me from asking him. There was no chance for further comment, anyway.

He had come in order to practise some music for a concert the following day. When my husband became tired, we left the piano and sat down for a chat. I read them a little poem composed by our youngest daughter during her history lessons which were dealing with the crusades just now. The children’s teacher, after having given them examples of crusading songs, had invited them to make one up themselves. All the necessary material had been provided during the lessons. Here is what she produced :

A Crusading Song

1° All you servants of Jesus,
Now awake and come away,
For God and Jesus in Heaven above,
You will win a place in Paradize,
If you go on a Crusade.

2° God will lead you all the way,
He will protect those who are brave,
If you don’t go on a Crusade,
You will not win a place in Paradize,
It is worth fighting for.

It was the funniest poem I had read for a long time and I was sorry to see that Paul and my husband didn’t laugh as much as I did. I said : this is what they learn at school ! The gentlemen pointed out there was nothing wrong with that, the pupils were learning what the crusaders believed. I asked, were the children told that this is a wrong belief ? They answered it is difficult to assess other people’s belief or even judge it. I said, it is not a matter of belief, but of facts. Power … I was getting into a grey area now, Paul warned me. I told him ‘belief’ takes us into a grey area, not facts. The fact was that power was at stake, no more and no less. And human beings were promised paradize for fighting for worldly power. The Muslims do the same, my husband assisted, no difference between them. And yet, this is what they learn, good Christians and wicked Muslims. Tendentious teaching. What is the object of teaching history ?
The conversation stagnated at this point and in fact the subject was dropped. My husband was visibly tired and I had to send Paul home much to my regret. However, we would meet next day at the concert.

It was a lovely concert in a small village hall whose walls were covered with wood, good for acoustics, I heard. The air was hot and dry with all the people present and the Choir nearly raised the roof. I thought I had grown out of male voice choirs, but obviously not yet. I liked the look of them and how they enjoyed themselves singing, singing with feeling, Paul told me later, ‘Les plaisirs sont doux’ among others. They sang it in French, with quite a good pronunciation.
Paul’s solos came over very well. Three songs sung in three different languages, united by the same theme, he explained to the audience, one about a secret love in German, one about unrequited love in English, and one about a lost love in Welsh, this one causing a certain amount of amusement, Paul read the words in English first, because of its quaint philosophy : Two lovers have a beautiful time in the summer and are heartbroken in the winter, having lost one another. The sagacious poet concludes with the words : had they been married in the summer, they wouldn’t have lost one another in the winter. Paul sang them all very well and received a lot of applause. After the concert we had a chat with him and one or two other members of the choir and came home later than expected. I asked Paul to get me two copies of the choir’s latest cassette recording. He said he would and also promised to be in touch about arranging a visit for us in their house.

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Reading Aloud 2

Aldous’ wife

I hadn’t seen Aldous and his wife since our return from holiday. I hadn’t seen them for a relatively long time in fact, and with having had heated discussions lately, I thought I had to show my good will and therefore rang them up. Aldous’ wife answered the telephone and sounded very friendly indeed. I asked her, were they free to come and see us in three days’ time, keeping us company together with Yan and Johnie and their wives. She said, what a lovely idea and how extraordinary that I should say that, because they had been invited to a dinner on that day. However, she had just received a telephone call asking them to come a day later. They would love to join us, she said. I was pleased to hear it.

Next morning she gave me a ring. She had a biggish problem about one of her dogs, she informed me. They were going away for a week, and while their elderly neighbour was prepared to look after one dog, she was at a loss what to do with the other one. She had tried to place her with a lady-friend who had first said ‘yes’ and then ‘no’. She had asked George, whose wife she visits frequently, could he help. He had said ‘yes, but …’ I interrupted her at this point, feeling a touch of impatience welling up inside me, and remarked that George was obviously unwilling to put himself out, even for her. He would have cancelled his evening class, Aldous’ wife said apologetically, but I didn’t want him to, poor man. She had gone back home, she added, consulting her husband who had advized to contact … me ! She hadn’t really wanted to, she said, it’s always you. But then I didn’t know what to do. I assured her that we would have her dog and she was relieved.

In the evening we saw them at the concert. They sat next to us, we had kept seats for them, and I asked Aldous to have a few provocative statements ready for our forthcoming gathering, so as to stimulate the conversation, the challenge being to remain friends ‘in spite of it’. He made no comment on this, whereas she giggled.

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Reading Aloud 2

Yan

I rang up Yan after our return from holiday. His wife answered the telephone, but he was available, too, still in his pyjamas, he said, and fit for a telephonic conversation. I wondered how he had been getting on with my foreign friend’s manuscript. Very well, he said, if not yet finished. Actually, he’s very good, he commented, incredible command of the language and a powerful intellect. He didn’t know whether he was up to him and would be pleased to meet him. I said, this could certainly be arranged. What about the manuscript then ? He would try and have it ready within two days, he said, probably …day. He would let me know.

I didn’t expect too much, not being in an undue hurry anyway, and was busy at my desk in the afternoon of …day when the telephone rang. It was Yan. Since he had promised ‘…day’, he said, could he come now and return the manuscript, not my friend’s, but the other one, no doubt I wanted it back. He would be with me shortly.

Tea was ready when he came. We withdrew into the living-room and onto the new comfortable three-seater, the two-seater hadn’t yet arrived, and had about half an hour’s chat, about my manuscript to begin with and why I wrote about all these things, the fact that nobody wants to start with him/herself, he couldn’t agree more, society at large and what it expects from us, what would happen, if there were no social conventions, everybody sleeping with everybody, he thought, that this might not be worthwhile for a number of reasons, what were the things to aim for, what was lasting, a few female names, well-known figures from literature and music, were mentioned, and what could a woman do for a man other than … which reminded me that I had a spare concert ticket, my husband being away on a business trip on that particular night.

I conceived the bold idea of inviting Yan to accompany me ! I had told him, we did nothing society could take offence at, it will tolerate, even encourage ‘kissing’ as a ‘loving’ gesture, I had learnt it all in Nessie’s house, Yan agreed that kissing was permitted, therefore there was nothing to fear, I went on, nothing to hide, clean conscience all the way. Under these circumstances, how about having an evening out together ?

I could see Yan shrink away in horror at the enormity of the suggestion. I was undeterred. I showed him the programme – it was wonderful. His wife would like to go there, he said. I told him that I didn’t feel like parting with my ticket. He laughed and said he didn’t blame me. He said he wasn’t sure whether he was free on that evening, not having his diary with him. Also he didn’t quite know … I said you can tell her I have invited you in recognition for the work you’ve done for me ! He said ‘Hm’ and then, how about discussing it when we all come to see you on Saturday ? I said I needed to know his answer by 7pm tonight, because if he couldn’t make it, I would try and find somebody else. And I explained about the concert with the choir and that I knew somebody there whom I could approach. With less chance of success probably, because my relationship with him was at a different stage – however, I didn’t tell Yan that. Yan sighed first, then laughed and eventually said, he would let me know before seven. He would have to wait for his wife to return from a W.I. meeting where she had spent the afternoon.

He rang at 6.30p.m., telling me that I looked like being ‘stuck’ with him. He was hoping my husband wouldn’t mind. I told him he could ask him personally on Saturday. As far as I could see, my husband wouldn’t mind, knowing that I treat everybody alike, ‘as hard as nails’ he calls me, ‘making people sweat it out’, and also aware of the fact that I prefer being driven to driving myself, he calls himself ‘the driver’, naturally I’d want a driver.

When my husband came home, I told him about the arrangement I had made. Did he think there was something wrong about me and Yan going to a concert together ? No, he said, and then, what does his wife say? I suggested he could ask her when we saw them on Saturday.

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Reading Aloud 2

… for I am my own fever, my own pain.

Aldous sang us a love-song from the time of the Renaissance, a man complaining about not being able to get away from ‘love-sickness’ and recognizing that ‘I am my own fever/pain’. I drew our friends’ attention to this remarkable degree of self-knowledge. They agreed. I thought, this was easy and came forward with the next proposition : It means we cause our own problems. Nobody else we can blame for them. They agreed. I was surprized Aldous didn’t place the responsibility for the man’s plight squarely on the shoulders of the girl in question. Maybe he had agreed without thinking. I was encouraged to propose : When we have problems with hurt feelings, it’s our own fault ! He was up in arms now. This was going too far. One can’t be held responsible for that. It’s the responsibility of those who do the hurting ! I said, everybody is responsible for himself ! I also maintained that any susceptibility to being hurt was a weakness. No, he said, it’s inherent in human nature, it’s an ability, you’d have to go through life with the skin of a rhino to avoid being hurt, insensitive to the extreme!

Maybe we can’t avoid being hurt, but it’s not desirable. It creates a bad atmosphere and difficult relationships. It can’t be helped, he said, if somebody hurts you, it’s not your fault. What can you do about it? I said we can control our feelings by analyzing them. When I’m hurt, something has happened to me that I don’t like. As simple as that. Which doesn’t mean that I have to accept it. But no reason to develop hurt feelings. Why bring in emotions ? Ask the person who’s done the hurting, Aldous said.

He then told us about the dangers of a closed mind. A good scientist will always keep an open mind. He admitted there are a lot of bad ones around. As for him, he has had to change his views about homeopathy, for example, because he had found an article in a scientific journal describing sophisticated experiments corroborating the claims of this branch of medicine. He was now led to believe, he said, that there might well be a lot to it after all, things that science had not yet grasped. I told him that the efficacy of homeopathy had been known and made use of for two hundred years and that in my view he was exactly these two hundred years behind. He said, science asks why. He didn’t want to blindly believe without a convincing demonstration of some kind. The danger of abuse, of placebo effect, etc. He had every reason to be sceptical. Science worked slowly sometimes, but surely, producing satisfying results as in this case, he said. I still thought he was two hundred years behind, able to believe only what science allowed him to.

I asked, can you form a judgment of something that hasn’t been proved scientifically ? We have to be careful, he said, obviously you can’t. You can consider the factor of probability, of course … But until something is proved, we can’t say much. As far as I know he had until recently not only been sceptical of homeopathy, but had openly scoffed at it … Of course, he tells me frankly, I scoff at religion. I like his openness. At least I know where I am with him.

Religion and science are, according to him, closely related. The Turin shroud was an excellent example of cooperation between the two disciplines, he said. Maybe science could render religion a great service in this case … Establishing the exact age, reconstructing the body by means of a computer, it would be very interesting to see what the findings were. One or two people present interrupted him, asking what the point of this investigation was. I don’t remember what he answered, nothing that stuck in my memory. He was undeterred, though, and went on for quite a while. It probably went over my head, for I couldn’t help asking spontaneously, that is, without premeditation, what the connection between science and religion really was. Of course, that was what we had been learning all this time, I realized too late. My silly question appeared to frustrate him and I was sorry. He shook his head at me and told me, I was of the nineteenth century.

My husband likes to bring in Buddhism and challenged Aldous on the subject of ‘chakra’. Was this phenomenon scientifically acceptable? He said, what are ‘chakras’? Can anybody show me? How many? seven? why not eight, nine, ten? He was about to scoff at the idea openly, but held back, I suppose just in case science would be able to provide evidence in later years.

There is nothing else I remember of this evening, except that Yan sat a long way from me. It was just as well. He didn’t get a chance to ask my husband’s permission to go out with me. I’m looking forward to this concert, the programme is wonderful.

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Reading Aloud 2

Evening out with Yan

I had told my children Yan was coming to pick me up for the concert. They didn’t think anything about it. When I came downstairs, dressed for the occasion, my youngest daughter took a look at me, she seemed pleased with my appearance and said she hoped he would be proud of being allowed to go out with me ! I don’t know whether he was.

He looked a bit tired when he arrived, but was forced to smile at the sight of my family who wished us a good time. I had instructed my eldest daughter to put on the heating in the living-room at 9.30pm in case he came in afterwards for a glass of wine and a piece of particularly nice home-produced apple-pie which I had managed to save.

We got into his car. He forgot to hold the door open for me, a sign of absent-mindedness and wasn’t going to bother about the warm greeting he normally gives me. I soon found out what was the matter : He told me with a worried face, he wasn’t at all sure that what he was doing was socially acceptable! I couldn’t help smiling a little about his qualms and asked, did he have a bad conscience, was he aware of doing anything he shouldn’t be doing ? No, he said, but … I said, one can’t stop people from thinking what they like, no matter what one is doing. As long as you know what you’re doing … Of course, he said, but … I put my hand on his as he was changing gears and he laughed, you’re enjoying yourself, aren’t you? I couldn’t deny it.

We had landed in a traffic jam and he became nervous about arriving in time. I am used to Steve cutting it fine and never having missed anything so far, if at the expense of other people who might have to run a little at the end, towards a concert hall in high-heeled shoes or through the airport with heavy bags and cases, and told Yan not to worry, we were in excellent time by any standards. He said he was always like that. He preferred to allow time to avoid any risks. I fully sympathized.

Talking about my husband, I let him know that Steve had wished me a nice evening. Did he really? Yan asked, he trusts you! I said, Steve didn’t think there was anything wrong about my going to the concert with him, Yan. Is that what he said? Yan asked, you should have heard what my wife said! I was glad I hadn’t ! Really for it to be socially acceptable, Yan continued, you should have offered your ticket to my wife! I reminded him that I had invited him in recognition for services done, would he like me to attach a sheet of paper to his back informing people in large letters of this fact ? He laughed and muttered something.

We had arrived at the car park by now, the second floor, parked the car and walked downstairs. It was then I dismayed him by taking his arm. It is so much easier walking on a gentleman’s arm when wearing high-heeled shoes while going down fairly steep stairs. He withdrew from me and I asked, didn’t a polite gentleman offer his arm to a lady ? He said, yes, but this also suggests a close relationship! He expected me to hold the rail instead with its millions of germs from other people’s hands, he had just pointed out that germs were flourishing in the present weather conditions. I walked down the stairs a little in front of him without holding on to anything, making an uneasy step once or twice. He steadied me by putting his hand on my shoulder …

We arrived at our seats a quarter of an hour early. Steve could have told you, I laughed. So far we hadn’t bumped into anybody we knew. Yan wasn’t worried about presenting our two tickets to the usher, although I had suggested to present my own in order to avoid being too closely associated with him, but he thought that was exaggerating things. The actual concert went very well. Our attention was held by the music and the attractive lady-conductor. I asked Yan what he thought about her. I am not a musical expert myself and had never really compared the performances of different conductors. He said she was popping up and down too much for his taste, too bouncy knees …

During the interval we decided to stretch our legs. Did I want an ice-cream? he asked politely. He wouldn’t want to queue for drinks at the bar, he said, which I fully understood. Steve and I never have anything. There was a big queue for the ice-cream lady, too, I pointed out and told him about cartoons of the English in the process of queuing, cartoons printed in English textbooks in my country. Tell me more about this, he said, as we were leaning against the wall just outside the door we had come through, pointless going downstairs in the crowd, much safer staying upstairs, what else do they say about the English? I could only think what they say about the Scots and money and forgot to ask, wasn’t his wife mighty pleased about him getting a free ticket. We hadn’t been standing long when a couple Yan knew bumped into us. How nice to see you, they said. He wasn’t sure about that. He turned to me. I don’t know how he was going to explain my presence and his wife’s absence. I didn’t wait for that, but informed them straight away that I had ‘invited him in recognition for work he had done for me’, I could say it quite fluently by now. He smiled and they smiled and they then had a little conversation about times gone by, they hadn’t met for ten years or so. During this conversation another lady he knew, a colleague from work, waved to him as she was passing. He will have to explain to her later. Of course, he could always say to her that his wife had just gone to the Ladies’. The interval seemed endless to Yan, but no more acquaintances.

Nothing memorable happened in the second part of the concert. When it had ended we had to face the crowd and bumped into people from our village, that is to say, Yan discovered them, being so tall he would have a better overall view, I expect. He was a little behind me, I could hear him say a warm ‘hallo, soandso’, I don’t know whether he added ‘nice to see you’ and decided not to associate myself with him, rather continue my course towards the exit, he would catch up with me. He did, without making any comment.

In the car park I had to walk up on my own all the stairs we had come down, he lending a supporting hand from behind. It took a long time leaving the car park. Dreadful exhaust fumes as well. I told him Steve always finds parking in the streets. Yan could see there was something to be said for that. On the way home he told me that he was up to his neck in work. He hardly knew how to do it all. He would have to write letters now, after the concert, and he was feeling tired, he said. I asked him, did he take on too much ? Oh no, he said, he was fine. He wanted it that way. He had taken early retirement, because it had been offered, but he certainly had no intention of giving it all up just yet. He wasn’t ready to give in to old age. I said, excellent ! He explained there wasn’t always the same amount of work. Life would be easier after this patch.

I don’t doubt it. I’ve heard him say in the spring that summer would be easier, in the summer that autumn would be easier …in the winter that next year would be easier, and so on.

Having just heard his timetable up to Christmas, I said he wouldn’t get a chance to see me again this year. He might, he answered, driving past our house he might drop in, feeling a bit guilty about not notifying me beforehand. I told him I rather like surprize visits, from him, anyway. How about listening to the minutes of Saturday’s meeting in our house, now ? Read by the author herself in a totally private session ! He said he would love to have this pleasure when the time comes.

We arrived back at our house. Pressed by the necessity to write letters, he didn’t get out of his car. He did give me a warm bye-bye.

I shared the remaining apple-pie with my eldest daughter. The living-room was nice and warm.

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Reading Aloud 2

Aldous and his wife

They dropped in to deliver us their dog. Aldous came first, carrying the basket which he plunked on top of our dining-table along with a week’s supply of feed. His wife came after, nursing the animal in her arms. Are you going to look after my baby? she asked my youngest daughter who stood ready to welcome the visitors.

They hadn’t brought any aspirin for the dog after all. Aldous had found that aspirin helped with rheumatism, his wife had told me on a previous occasion. Their dog being a bit ‘rheumaticky’, she administers her the drug every other day. Only a quarter of a tablet, mind you, she said, she’s only got a small body. I was willing to keep the therapy going and had asked to be provided with a tablet cut into four. However, she had decided that the dog could go without the drug for a week.

Aldous and his wife were in their travelling clothes, ready to fly to the Continent. They were going to do a little shopping locally, Aldous explained, a few nuts and raisins, useful things to have on a journey. We understood, one never knows what will happen to one when travelling, possibly stuck for any length of time in aeroplanes or at airports… I praised his foresight. His wife was wearing a nice new skirt. I complimented her on it and she said it came from a town in Wales, one of these places which were fifty years behind. You must go there, you would love it, she said to me. Aldous added: Actually, that’s one of the nice things in this country, I believe he included the remainder of the British Isles, fifty years behind. He said it quite seriously, too. I felt like telling them, I knew people in this country who were even two hundred years behind homeopathically speaking, but refrained.

We wished them a good time. He pretended not to look forward to ‘all the work’, three different lectures to be given. Also he would have to be very ‘correct’ with all these people on the Continent, and he made a stiff little bow to the wall to indicate what he meant and how he assessed ‘them over there’. I said, no problem for you. His wife laughed as though she wasn’t sure. I added, as far as I know you, anyway. He laughed now and said they had to go. They would pick up their dog as soon as they were back. I asked them not to look out for presents for us, we didn’t want any. She said, we were ‘very good’ and he asked, didn’t we want a cuckoo clock? I said ‘no’, wondering what he’ll do about that problem.

When they had left, I put the dog’s basket under the table where she sat up for quite a while, until she relaxed and lay down. The children are keen to take her ‘walkies’. I hope the novelty won’t wear off too quickly.

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Reading Aloud 2

Mr Hackitt

It was ‘presentation evening’ at the school. Teachers, pupils and parents met in order to celebrate five years’ work and the more or less successful end of them. The Director of Studies, Mr Hackitt, was standing at the entrance door when we arrived, bowed politely and gave us a welcoming ‘nice to see you, Mrs C.’ He was there in his professional capacity, needless to say, the first parents’ evening since the end of the ‘great strike’, the faintest smile was showing on his face. We gave him a warm ‘hallo’ and my husband thought, this was a good start of the evening. We sat through the programme like everybody else. There were mainly speeches given by the Headmaster, the senior pupils, the Chairman of the Governors and as a special attraction the Director of Education, the ‘most powerful single person among the Education Authorities’, Mr Hackitt explained to us later.

I had rarely heard so much praise and so much applause within a short time. My husband told me that this was common practice, if not routine, on an occasion like that. He remembered it exactly like that from the time he was young. All the speakers, except head-girl and head-boy, first congratulated the pupils on their remarkable results, thus prompting applause from the proud audience, then praised the staff for their remarkable work, prompting more applause, then thanked everybody from headmaster to caretaker, parents, governors and others for all the work put in, all the patience shown and all the good will demonstrated. More applause. All the speakers stressed how difficult the last year had been, teachers’ strike and all that, how precarious the situation and how good everybody’s behaviour, making excellent results possible, one of the best schools he had been to, the Director of Education said. These statements were followed by applause.

The Chairman of the Governors extended particularly profuse thanks to everyone in the least involved and took care not to forget his Vice-Chairman to whom, he said, he owed a lot. He made a little pause to allow time for applause, but for once it didn’t come easily. I could in fact hear one pair of hands which soon stopped, feeling lonely. I thought this was unfair and while the pause lasted, the Chairman preparing to resume, I started clapping with determination and am pleased to say that the rest of the audience followed enthusiastically. The Chairman smiled and turned to the Vice-Chairman who, I hope, was duly moved.

The highlight of the evening was the speech delivered by the Director of Education. He had presented the pupils with their certificates first and had found something to say to every single one. We watched him up there on the stage, marvelling at what he had to say to complete strangers, laughing, waving his hands, stepping backward and forward. One pupil done, the next one came, and so on. He seemed tireless. It turned out afterwards that he had been collecting material for his speech, for he told us first of all that he had met ‘lots of interesting people’ and listed all the professions which they had told him they wanted to choose. He spoke without notes, one hand in a pocket most of the time, bending his body backward and forward for emphasis, starting off jokingly and then assuming a serious face for the basically serious matter he wanted to discuss. Of course, it was Society that was at stake. The quality of its members decides about the quality of Society, he explained to his eager listeners, and all the talent present could play an important part in improving Society considerably. What they would have to do was simple: stick to the ‘dream’ they had of whatever it was, my daughter had told him she had no idea what, and make it come true! Persist, persevere, show their mettle … and a lot more.

I didn’t follow it all. I was distracted by a very worrying noise which seemed to come from near where the fire hose was suspended on the wall. A distinct noise of water, sometimes more, sometimes less, as of a fountain, except that there was none. I was almost expecting water to appear on the floor, it sounded so close. One or two people looked in the direction of the noise. However, on the whole there seemed to be no reason for concern, everywhere stayed dry. I found out afterwards that it had been raining fairly steadily, probably making a gutter overflow. On the outside, of course. I don’t know how thick the wall was and how much rain it would resist in theory.

After the official part came the unofficial one. There were coffee, tea and conversation.We were mainly hanging around, waiting for our son who was giving a helping hand in the kitchen. Mr Hackitt was also around, keeping an eye on everything and clearing empty cups away. I made myself useful and did the same. Eventually there was nothing left to be done and we met up with Mr Hackitt quite naturally. He was having a cup of coffee, saying that without it he would be worthless.

I said, the school appeared to be a splendid one after all we had heard tonight. He answered, he had always known it was, right from the beginning. Splendid atmosphere in general, excellent relationship between staff and pupils, staff and headmaster, staff and parents and among the staff themselves. We heard there was a special type of teacher who seemed to enjoy working and staying at this particular school and whom, when applying for a job there, they would recognize instinctively. If there were two equally qualified candidates for the job, they would choose the one who struck them as the right ‘type’, he said earnestly, without specifying what the exact requirements were. The school wasn’t bad academically, which must have been an understatement judging by what we had previously heard. Not brilliant, he said, but he would like to point out that the staff were working hard.

He might have remembered at this point my last meeting with him, for he hastened to add: Of course, we’re not perfect, but who would be perfect? But it was a nice school, he insisted, the kind of school he enjoyed. I was pleased for his sake, said that we, too, were happy with the school, so were the children, he acknowledged it with a smile and replied that he much appreciated supportive parents. What a good turn-out tonight, for example, I trust he saw me help with the empty cups. I told him we were only standing around because waiting for our son. Where is he then? he asked, let me have a look for him. And he went into the kitchen, into the tearoom and along one or two corridors, we could hardly follow, until he eventually found him. He said ‘nice to have seen you, Mr C., nice to have seen you, Mrs C.’ and we said ‘good-bye for now’.

He was wearing a red tie with lots of tiny white dots, I didn’t think it was too good a choice, too much of the same thing. I preferred the blue tie I saw on him last time, counterbalancing his temperament, so to speak.

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Reading Aloud 2

The Greengrocer’s wife

She is much attached to her husband and makes no secret of it. This morning she put a proud owner’s hand on his shoulder and informed her two lady-customers that he had been ‘after her’ all morning, adding: You know what he’s like, girls! The person thus commented upon pulled a face that I can best describe as pained. However, she didn’t see that as he was turning away slightly and she busy impressing her customers whom she was facing. I didn’t see why I for one – I couldn’t speak for the other lady present whom I have heard call him ‘darling’ many times – should know what he was like, but didn’t press my point.

The Greengrocer is quite a stately person, I suppose, with long legs, a bit chubby, well-mannered, very presentable on the whole. She settled on him as soon as she saw him, she told me years ago. He was the one she had to have and she did.

When the other lady had left the shop, she turned to me and said with a serious face: I hope you didn’t take offence the other day … I didn’t know what she was hinting at. She waited a bit, giving me time to think and it occurred to me that she was referring to herself snarling at me a few weeks ago. Too late, I thought, it’s all been written down. How amazing, though, that she should mention this in her husband’s presence …
Before I could say anything, she went on: This lady who’s just left … I understood immediately, I had been on the wrong track. Of course, not she, but this lady who last time I was at the shop had ticked me off for leaving our dog out in the rain. I had replied jokingly, I hoped she wouldn’t report me anywhere, to which she had made no answer. Personally I couldn’t care less. I never thought about the little incident on seeing her again and certainly had managed a friendly ‘good morning’. The Greengrocer’s wife remembered it, though. She hoped I hadn’t taken offence at this rude remark, she repeated. We disapprove of any comment made on our customers, she said, including her husband in this statement. Against their policy, so to speak. It would be silly to lose one customer through the fault of another one. She added: This woman loves animals more than humans! It is true, the lady in question looks a bit hard. But then, so does the Greengrocer’s wife. On another occasion she had asked her lady-customers: Which would you prefer, a man or a dog? and had smiled approvingly when someone said: a dog any time.

I reassured her there was nothing to worry about. The Greengrocer didn’t look very worried, he knows me better and selected some lovely stamps from his new sheets for me.

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Reading Aloud 2

Religion

Religion is a movement centred round the life and teachings of a personality who in a number of cases gave his name, willingly or not, to it. In the course of history, certain personalities were made into the centre of religions, others were not. There is a basic concept which would appear to be common to the most widely spread religions : human beings are held to meet one another with respect, if nothing else.

Religion thus becomes closely associated with Society. In fact Society provides a religion for those who want it. Religion meets certain needs experienced by humans : It goes beyond death. It offers life after death. It proposes to save man from annihilation and incorporate him into a different world. It is true that man is expected to work hard in his earthly life, and the kind of place he will achieve in the other world will depend on the efforts displayed in this. Which makes sense.

Religion provides guidance for man’s earthly life in the form of rules or commandments which have to be obeyed. In one religion in particular there are ten basic commandments, the observation of which should guarantee a smooth functioning of Society and peaceful coexistence of all men. These have been handed down in writing. There is an eleventh commandment based on oral tradition : You must not be found out.

Apart from solving the problem of death, religion has the advantage of offering an interlocutor, a third party, a kind of referee to whom one can turn when at one’s wits’ end. It is comforting to know that this third party is almighty and is able to bring about things humans can’t , a power stronger than one’s worst enemy. There is a special form of address to this power, called prayer. Some people say prayer is a conversation. However, it seems as if the human being is doing all the talking. The conversation would therefore appear to be one-sided. It is true, there is a saying to the effect that in prayer the most important thing is not what humans have to say, but the other party… The presumed existence of a super-power has the advantage that man has something to refer to and lean upon. Throughout his life he can hang on to something stronger than he himself whenever he feels like it. This saves him the trouble of standing on his own feet, a tedious, tiring and hazardous undertaking, using up energy which might be more profitably spent.

When the problems of mankind become very great, all the resources of religion are made use of. People are threatened by punishment, if they do or do not certain things. People are reminded that they are all brothers and sisters and should behave accordingly. (Perhaps the metaphor is not too well chosen.) People are called upon to unite their efforts in prayer, preferably worldwide for real impact. Days of worldwide prayer are introduced, representatives of all denominations assembling in colourful and televized gatherings, praying for peace, for example. A day of prayer for peace, an urgent appeal to a super-power to help us out of our mess. The question ‘Who is responsible for the problems?’ is rarely asked, and the idea that those who are responsible should be called to task, if they fail to remedy the situation, has never been voiced.

It is curious to see the effect of religion whose basic teaching is that humans should respect one another and this worldwide : the effect seems to be the very opposite ! History shows that whatever religion teaches, people do not respect one another and this is universal. There is even evidence that for all the time religion has been existing mankind has gone from bad to worse, possibly not hesitating to destroy itself. Of course, once this is achieved, there is no point in religion any more.

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Reading Aloud 2

Religion the practical way

Throughout history religion has been used as an excuse for all sorts of actions by human beings against other human beings. Why does religion lend itself to this, against its very teaching ?

Religion is an instrument of power successfully wielded by its official representatives. It is applied to people’s consciences. It exercizes pressure. It kindles enthusiasm. It creates fanaticism. A few leading figures are followed by the masses. The masses are hoping for a reward, expecting and demanding a reward, for their good deeds. Religion tells them what good deeds are. The masses will accept what is put over with authority, in a loud voice. All they have to do is follow and the reward will be theirs. The masses are greedy. They follow whoever makes the best promise. They take what they can. It might cost them their lives sometimes, in religious wars, for example, but the objective is worthwhile. The survivors’ booty will be all the bigger. And everybody who fights the infidel will go to paradize. The same fate is reserved for the truly faithful who fights the wicked Christians. They’ll all meet again in the same place.

One religion fights another. Different denominations of the same religion are at war with one another. Missionaries go out to propagate their respective belief. They all hold the monopoly of truth which, very unselfishly, they don’t want to keep to themselves, but insist on spreading, worldwide, if possible at all. This can frequently not be done before the path has been smoothed by military action.

Religion is noisy and outspoken, nobody would take notice of it otherwise. Religion gives people the burning conviction that they are right and the others wrong. People do and believe as they are told, this is what justifies them. It saves them the trouble of taking the initiative themselves. All they have to do is follow. Follow their leader against those that are wrong. And the reward will be theirs, in this world or the other. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Religion is an important feature of Society. Like any other ideology. It has a unifying effect. It contains people within well-defined bounds. It creates law and order. It has a reassuring effect. It grapples with the problem of the invisible world for those who believe there is one. It enables people to have a reasonably good conscience and to ‘see the mote in their brother’s eye’ : all that’s left to be done is pull it out.

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Reading Aloud 2

Death

Annihilation is not a pleasant thought. Therefore most people hold that we live on in one way or other, if not in a different world, if not spiritually so to speak, then in our children, in our friends’ memories and last not least in plants to which our decomposed bodies give valuable nutrients, the plants themselves being food for higher beings, etc., a natural circle of which humans are part.

Human society comprizes the span from birth to death which means that it is concerned exclusively with the visible, audible, etc. world. Anything before birth or after death is beyond it and in fact of no consequence. Its interest in a human being begins with birth and ends with death.

Society can’t help accepting death and tries to deal with it with good grace. It subjects the phenomenon to its own rules and regulations, thus making it an integral and manageable part of earthly life. Religion, as represented by the Church, is a great helper in this respect. In a non-religious environment society will create its own, not very dissimilar ritual, enabling it to cope with the problem.

Society decides what kind of death its members can have. The most common one, generally accepted for being inevitable, is ‘natural’ death, death of old age or other unfortunate causes, like diseases of which there is a large spectrum available. In many such cases society goes to the length of welcoming death, because it is supposed to bring relief. It is good to see that the suffering is finished. Society continues anyway and provides a more or less decent funeral, depending on the status of the defunct involved.

A kind of death which is socially not acceptable, giving rise to concern, dismay and criticism, is suicide. It was considered such a serious offence at one time, that the offender would not receive a proper funeral. However, this attitude has softened. Why does suicide cause offence ? Because the person concerned could have chosen to live, but preferred to die. He had a choice which anybody dying ‘naturally’ doesn’t. Society expects everyone to live with enthusiasm. Suicide is against a social convention and constitutes contempt of Society. It is not a done thing. Society has no means of preventing people from trespassing against its conventions, but it can punish such people afterwards. By refusing a funeral, for example.

Society has, on the other hand, the power to implement death in general and under special circumstances in particular. Death then becomes acceptable because Society will have it and because the people suffering it do so involuntarily, being made to die whether they like it or not.

Death becomes acceptable in pursuit of certain aims set by Society. The individual is allowed to die for the sake of Society, not for his own sake. Society might want to rid itself of undesirable elements, for example, the definition of ‘undesirable’ being laid down by the ruling powers. Death is then regarded as a punishment. More regrettable cases of death occur inadvertently as a consequence of Society’s way of life : fatal accidents of all kinds. Still regrettable, but honourable is the sacrifice of one’s life for Society by engaging in action destined to guarantee Society’s existence. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. The ruling powers decide what action is needed in pursuit of which aims. All members of Society are held to respect the decisions and do the necessary. In recognition of their dead members’ loyalty, Society will erect monuments, the sizes of which are subject to different considerations, like the importance and/or number of people involved as well as the cost, everything must be in proportion. It is also considered a fine gesture to gather the mortal remains even years after the event and bring them home, so that they can be put to rest in a necropolis, a useful place, reminding people in regular intervals of their duty towards Society. In most Societies memorial services are held, speeches made and the due ritual displayed, the modalities of which depend on the nature of the respective Society. Religion reveals itself as a great asset on such occasions and in general whenever Society is faced with death. Society at its wits’ end introduces religion as a convenient means to sugar the pill. Time asserts itself as the great healer it is supposed to be. And in any case, life goes on …

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Reading Aloud 2

Society

Society is concerned with the visible world such as it manifests itself in the time between birth and death, the world that can be seen, heard, felt, touched, tasted. Society has given itself rules and regulations, a ‘social code’, proper laws and so-called social conventions, which enable it to function properly. Laws must be obeyed and are enforced. Social conventions are less stringent and the consequences of breaking them less severe, although they can be considerable. It is therefore advizable to meet the most important requirement : not to be found out. Anybody who isn’t found out, will be allowed to live in peace, Society being concerned with what it can see. Anything it can’t see is non-existent and consequently of no importance. It bears a certain similarity with Science in this respect, Science being, of course, a product of Society.

A fairly large proportion of the members of Society feel a need to believe in something that goes beyond their personal existence. In order to satisfy these members and at the same time contain this potentially threatening inclination, Society offers religion as a neatly and orderly devized outlet, fully integrated into Society’s law and order. Any commonly accepted ideology could, of course, take the place of religion, the principle being the same.

Life in Society is governed by the ‘social code’, a set of rules accepted by most members. It determines the morality of man’s behaviour, good, if in agreement, bad, if in disagreement with it. Different Societies have different social codes and consequently different conceptions of morality.
Morality is relative. Whoever is in power in a given Society, religious, political and other leaders, can shape the social code to suit his purposes. The social code is generally accepted because it makes life easier. Especially it makes members of Society watch one another. Any trespassing is denounced as soon as discovered. The social code is like a corset supporting the individual who knows exactly how far he/she can go, what is legitimate, what just about acceptable and what not. This is reassuring for the individual because he/she knows when they can have a clear conscience and when not. The individual is taught to live within the system. He/She learns what is right and what is wrong. There is no need for anyone to worry, as long as the rules are observed. The individual is not encouraged to question himself. This is not necessary, because Society provides for everybody. It offers the right solution for every conceivable problem. The individual is held to acknowledge this and stay within well-defined limits. The individual must not conceive the idea that he/she can be independent of Society. This would question the very existence of Society who is interested in making the individual rely on it, thus keeping him/her under control.
Who controls ? With what purpose ? The individual must be comfortably embedded in Society, so as to forget other quests. Which quests ?

An example :
I want to do something. I take care not to be found out. I find I can’t do what I want to do. I hit a resistance built into me. I can only go so far, no further.
Somebody else has the same experience. We can’t do what we want to do. It seems we must be happy with less. We try again and hit the same obstacle. We give up, thinking maybe the grapes are sour. Perhaps they are ! Perhaps we are spared having sour grapes ? We shall never know. Until we find something better. What is there that is better ?

This is precisely the question Society does not want us to ask, because it can’t provide the answer. The answer is beyond it.
Society looks at it this way : What we wanted to do was against the social conventions. We gave up, because we were going to break the rules. We recognized that breaking the rules carried consequences. We touched the limits of Society, were frightened and returned back into the fold. Like cattle touching an electric fence. We behaved like responsible members of Society and in recognition of this we may continue to live in peace, with a clear conscience. As long as we stay within the limits.

No need to tell Society that we are not happy with that. No need to broadcast that we are in quest of something better. Anything that’s worth having is difficult to find …

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Reading Aloud 2

The Farmer

He was having problems with the heifers last time I saw him, it spoilt the milking, he said. A new milkmaid to be taught at the same time. As for the heifers, they had to learn to be milked. Their first time ever in the dairy and some of them reluctant to come in. The Farmer had to push them, the slightly built milkmaid trying to entice them with food. Then the step of ten inches or so up onto the block where the actual milking takes place. Most of them managed it. I admired the Farmer who put all his weight against their hindquarters to indicate the direction.
One of them, however, lay down in the dairy. It took an hour to get her onto the block, and then she started kicking. The Farmer had to tie her legs together. Only he can milk her at the moment which is a nuisance. He’d give her another chance, he said, and if she doesn’t do as she’s told, he’d have to get rid of her.

Apparently it’s quite a job to arrange calving for a convenient time, a time when the price for milk is low. There is a certain ‘dry period’ prior to the birth which means that less milk is available. Some people don’t milk them at all, I heard. Not worth the trouble for the price. And the worry about the quota. There’s always a chance of being penalized for supplying too much milk. The Farmer lost a tankful last year because the cooling system went wrong. He wasn’t displeased because it kept his quota down.

A friend of his explained to me once what happens to surplus milk. It is reduced to milk powder, has to be put into storage, is marketed for human consumption and if not sold within two years used up as pig feed. A lot of office work involved as well. And jobs, of course. It struck me as a lot of trouble mainly for pig feed.

I asked the Farmer about badgers and T.B. Do these animals really transmit T.B. to cattle ? He said, he didn’t know, not having had personal experience with the problem. He told me that badgers do carry T.B. and when cattle is affected by this disease in areas where there are badgers, people put two and two together. This was not a problem for him, because there are hardly any badgers in our area. He also added that T.B. tends to occur where there are masses and masses of cattle together. Again not a problem for him because he is lucky, being the only dairy farmer for miles and no other cattle around. He walked away with a pleased little smile.

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Reading Aloud 2

Aunt Maisie

Every time I see her, she asks after Johnie’s wife because it was Johnie’s wife who introduced me to her and paid her visits, too, which she hasn’t done for a long time, now.
Johnie’s wife is very busy with a university course, I have often explained this to Aunt Maisie. How does she cope with her housework, Aunt Maisie wonders. If she’s out all day, who does the housework? I venture that maybe there isn’t a lot. There are the tops in the kitchen, Aunt Maisie says. They’re quickly done, I answer. There’s the bathroom, Aunt Maisie remarks, raising her right forefinger. I can’t deny it. Fortunately I am in a position to inform her that Johnie’s house is no less tidy than ours. And I’m at home all day ! I also remembered what Johnie’s wife told me about her husband. His job is of such a nature that he is at home not infrequently during the day. He has the garden to keep him busy, but when that’s done … he sometimes doesn’t know, I understand, how to occupy himself. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Johnie to make himself useful … in the house, for example ?
Aunt Maisie laughs and doesn’t think much to this suggestion. He wouldn’t like that, would he, she says. She wonders, does Johnie’s wife still work for the charity she is a member of ? She probably doesn’t have much time for that, now, Aunt Maisie reckons, showing disapproval. What does she have to go to university for, anyway, she asks, having a family and all the relevant commitments. I can remember Aldous asking the same question.

I change the subject because I have no more information to give her and inquire about her young gentleman-friend who had been ill for quite a while. He’s alright, I hear, back to normal and back to work. He works for the Sultan of Z., a very generous man, Aunt Maisie says full of admiration, who has bought an estate nearby and employs quite a few people. Her young friend had been ill for six months and not only didn’t lose his job, but had his full pay on top. And now he’s gone back. What a wonderful man, the Sultan! And look what he’s done for the village. All the money he’s given to the school, and the swimming pool he’s had built. Quite exemplary. Not like some local farmers. When people can’t work for them anymore, they’re sent away, they’re not allowed to stay on the land. They’ll be lucky, if they find a council-house or flat.

Aunt Maisie is indignant. Her husband was a farm labourer. They were lucky and found a council-house. As for the Sultan, he comes from a poor tribe, she informs me, until he stumbled on all these oil wells. Now, he’s rich. He has an agent in town over here whom he went to see recently, just for the day. Fancy doing such a journey and staying for one day! Aunt Maisie fails to comprehend.

I have to think of other foreigners, from the Far East, who have been good to this country by building a large industrial plant just where unemployment is at its worst. Nothing but praise for them. And how welcome their money! The local workforce is determined to make the venture a success. The incentive is there. Aunt Maisie fully agrees. People should do honest work instead of striking. Too much of that nowadays. The teachers have certainly got what they wanted. They should be happy with their pay. Until they want more, Aunt Maisie says, human beings are greedy.

We could go on talking for a long time, but I must think of my commitments as a housewife and mother. She understands that. I tell her that I ‘love her and leave her’. She smiles, saying, it’s lovely to see you, it really is! I promise to see her next week, get onto my bicycle and she waves after me.

My elder daughter’s boyfriend lives in the same street as Aunt Maisie. He didn’t know about our links with her and trying to explain to my daughter where his house is, he said, it’s ‘where the old phobies live’.
Aunt Maisie had her own back, unknowingly, it is true : When I told her that my daughter’s boyfriend lived in her street, ‘just opposite the police station’, she observed that ‘she should look higher than that’ …

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Reading Aloud 2

Aldous and his wife and our dog

Our dog started barking. He doesn’t normally bark when visitors arrive. Also he never takes any notice of the postman, simply ignores him, as opposed to the little terrier next door who invariably lets me know when the mail is about to be delivered. Our dog showed signs of upset and we thought he must have spotted a squirrel through the window or heard an unfamiliar noise, we certainly hadn’t heard anything.

And yet, it was Aldous and his wife he had sensed somehow, for it was them who turned up at our backdoor quite unexpectedly to collect their little dog after returning from the Continent. They shouldn’t have come until a day later.

Here they were, now. The whole place suddenly became very noisy, my children told me later. There were ‘hallo’s and ‘how are you’ and ‘how are the dogs’ and ‘lovely to see you’ and ‘did she behave herself’. And they bent down to greet their dog who lay on her back for them to ‘tickle her tummy’. Our dog came up to join the crowd. My attention was taken altogether by the visitors. I could vaguely hear our dog growl and took him by his collar. He kept on growling and Aldous’ wife said, look he’s jealous, and put her hand on him. We rarely hear our dog growl, quite unusual in fact. He does like to claim his share of attention, but we’d never heard him growl on such an occasion. We’ve known him to growl at Aldous’ wife once or twice, we have no idea why. I didn’t pay any attention to him this time and my daughter told me later that he had in fact bared his teeth …

Aldous and his wife looked tired. I made them a cup of tea, not a single cup of decent tea they’d had while away, and they started telling us about their latest Continental experience. How extraordinarily expensive everything was, absolutely horrendous, out of price. They simply hadn’t felt like buying anything, except a bit of chocolate. On their last night there they had been taken out to an extremely posh restaurant, we heard, so many francs a four-course meal. It was incredible by any standards. And the quality of the food so poor. The decorum was nice, the packaging so to speak, but what they got … Little better than what they had had on their night out with their former neighbours. At least the meat wasn’t tepid! There had been huge colour postcards on each table, ready stamped for immediate use. Aldous’ wife had taken one as a souvenir and showed it us. It looked an impressive place. Seeing a large house on top of a green hill reminded me of a composer who had lived and conceived one of his works about a famous pair of lovers in this same area. Of course, his music sends Aldous to sleep, and when I asked, had they come across this house, too, all I had for an answer was a weary smile.

But the generous finance scientists receive over there! All the latest equipment. And they don’t know what to do with it! Aldous had received the information that once the equipment was put into place, the beneficiaries had to think hard how best to use it. Isn’t it incredible! And here, there’s nothing like it! So short of everything.

One big comfort: our houses here were much nicer than the ones on the Continent. For all their money they mainly lived in flats over there. How people could put up with that, Aldous didn’t know. He had the pleasure of hearing his house described by somebody who’d been as a ‘sort of castle’. Just to show the difference.

Aldous’ lectures on ecological subjects had all been very well timed, Aldous said, because of a disaster that had struck the chemical industry of that country, virtually killing off all fish in an important river. There was a big outcry and general pointing of fingers at the scientists of that particular discipline. Of course, what science has to do, Aldous remarked and had been heard, was to criticize itself. This was a case where things had gone wrong and one shouldn’t be afraid of admitting that, he had told his colleagues.
I thought this was a remarkable statement. Obviously the things that had gone wrong had nothing to do with him.

Anyway, they were both satisfied with their Continental excursion, even if they were out of pocket by so many pounds. The expenses hadn’t covered everything, but then you can’t expect them to pay for one’s wife as well. The fee he had received for his lectures was negligible, Aldous said. And what a lot of work involved with it. Any businessman would get more for his efforts. They had finished their cups of tea, looked revived, picked up their dog and prepared to go home. Shall we see you at Paul’s tomorrow night? Aldous’ wife asked. I said, no, we hadn’t been invited, in any case we were going to a concert. She said, see you next week, I’ll bring you some chocolate.

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Reading Aloud 2

The Butcher

I hadn’t seen him for quite a while. Haven’t seen your Mum for ages, fat Aedan said to my son. How’s your Mum? Is she alright? the Butcher asked my daughter. I don’t know what Joe thought. He was probably reassured at seeing my children. Even the Orms’ neighbour had been asked how I was, I heard from the Orms, at one time I used to shop there regularly with them.

I sent my daughter yet again to buy some meat. She came back beaming. The Butcher had inquired not only after me, but also after her … boyfriend! What a nuisance! Had I told him anything ? It would be just like me ! I protested my innocence and she believed me.

I then found out that we had forgotten our dog’s meal. His weekly pet-mince. And a bone. And a slice of liver for pussycat. I got into the car and went to see my friends. How are you all ? I greeted them. They were pleased to see me. While Aedan was serving me, I had a little chat with the Butcher. He hoped he hadn’t put off my daughter this morning, he said, by asking after her boyfriends. I was able to put his mind at rest. No harm in teasing a little. He said apologetically, a good-looking girl like that and no boyfriends? Impossible.

I then explained why I hadn’t been for so long. In the first place we didn’t eat much meat. Oh dear, he said. I mentioned I was fully aware that this was no good for his business and begged him to remember, on the other hand, that we were vegetarians at one time and therefore he wasn’t doing all that badly on us after all. He laughed. I pointed out we had a Sunday joint pretty regularly. He thought it was amazing we had turned to meat after being vegetarians. For all he knew, it was the other way round normally. I told him I’d been through the vegetarian stage without stopping there unduly. He didn’t know whether to take me seriously or not and laughed cautiously. I noticed that another customer was becoming interested in the conversation. The Butcher said he’d heard or read, he didn’t remember which, that vegetarians have an extremely dangerous life, because all the food they go in for is particularly contaminated by poisons of all kinds. How could anybody be a vegetarian? Suicidal!

He looked very concerned and the other customer said, she would love her niece to hear this, her niece having just turned vegetarian. I pointed out that in meat, of course, we get the poisons from the feed plants plus the chemicals that are administered directly to the animals, like antibiotics, hormones and many more. Not in my meat! the Butcher protested. I told him, this was why we came to him ! He was reassured and informed me, there was a new law forbidding the use of hormones altogether. He didn’t mention any of the other substances. As for hormones, farmers had a year’s grace to get rid of their stocks. And after that it would be illegal, against the law, and who would dare … He looked determined.

How do we solve all these problems, the other customer sighed. Best not to think about them, I laughed. The Butcher laughed, too. I bet he appreciates easy-going customers !

I asked him to give my regards to Joe who wasn’t in. He said ‘thank you’ and ‘will do’.
Bye-bye now.

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Reading Aloud 2

Jeremy and his wife

We spent a pleasant evening in their house in the company of their daughter and son-in-law whose children had been put to bed in ‘Grandma’s bed’.

Jeremy had promised to show us the photographs he had taken during their holiday in Iceland. He gave an excellent talk with it and I would certainly feel tempted to visit this island, if somebody invited me. Jeremy’s wife had prepared some excellent cakes and apart from seeing the photographs we had a good conversation.

Their son-in-law had just finished his Ph.D. and asked about his thesis indulged himself in quite long talk. His thesis was concerned with an autobiography of the 19th century. What is interesting about such a work, I wondered. What are the merits of autobiography in general ? He said, it gave a picture of the time, the main point of interest for him. We could unfortunately not pursue this train of thought, but changed to a more general subject, education.

Jeremy’s daughter, a scientist who like Aldous teaches at the University, she had studied at a better university herself, was very critical of the way students are made to learn nowadays. She said they were ‘force-fed’ at her workplace and didn’t like it. We passed on to their own children’s education, their eldest child having reached school age. Which school to send him to? In the end they had settled on the one in the neighbouring village. A few miles away from their home, true, but the school had appealed to them. They would have to take him there and collect him, that was the trouble. They were both working, they couldn’t buy a house otherwize … However, she was hoping, looking sideways at her mother, that they would find support …

I could see what she meant. Non-working mothers like hers can be very useful. At home all the time. A car at her disposal. Why shouldn’t she do this little job for her daughter! She had done a lot for her already. She could pick up the little boy after school, couldn’t she?

Jeremy’s wife visibly didn’t like the idea too much, because, she said with a smile, the school was just a bit too far away … If it was a bit nearer … It isn’t all that far, her daughter answered back. The subject was dropped.

The evening passed pleasantly and quickly. Eventually, Jeremy’s daughter sent her husband upstairs for the children, it was time to go home. He went good-humouredly and we heard him call ‘help’ a little later. His wife went to assist him. When they came downstairs with the little mites, she announced that ‘Grandma’s bed is a bit damp, not much’. Grandma smiled, while Grandpa raised his eyebrows slightly.

We got out of the way quickly, our car was blocking theirs, thanking them for a lovely evening.

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Reading Aloud 2

The Jesuit

Dear me, my tolerant and liberally-minded husband said to me when I came out of the news agent’s, doesn’t he look just like a Jesuit! He was looking in the direction of a well-known blue car. The Vicar !

It was Sunday and the Vicar had also paid a visit to the news agent, in a flurry, in a hurry, swishing past me in his winter working gear. All these clothes must keep him warm. A full-length ample gown, a type of cassock on top, a long pullover in between showing from under the cassock as did a belt, a beret to crown everything. All black. Tall, thin, slight stoop. Determined movements. Pale, lean, bony features dominated by nose and bushy eyebrows. Formidable. Awe-inspiring. He certainly impressed my husband. He put the accelerator down as he set off and must have arrived at his destination just a minute or two before the church wardens. There are two of them. One I only know by sight. We saw them both on our way home, one after the other, following the Vicar. They waved to me, looking serious, and my husband thought I had some excellent contacts really … The churchwardens were closely followed by a senior member of the choir who had the headmaster’s wife with him in his car. They gave us a smile and a wave. There must have been an important meeting somewhere.

What’s the real man? my husband wondered, still thinking about the Vicar: the friendly, socially-minded chatty person whom one meets at coffee mornings or bumps into on walks or the towering, sombre figure we had just seen. One of the two must be a show! I told him which I thought was the real man and he found it hard to believe …

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Reading Aloud 2

Aldous and his wife

The chocolate didn’t come for a whole week. We started speculating what was the matter, having seen Aldous’ wife drive past our house several times. Maybe … she had forgotten ? Maybe she had given it to somebody else ? The children were a little bit disappointed and I relieved for not having to watch their teeth. The next weekend came round and we were due to go to a local concert. Everybody would be there : the Aldous, the Pauls, the Yans and a few more. I made up my mind not to go. For one thing I didn’t want to give Aldous’ wife a bad conscience by the sheer look of me, for another I had work to do. I told my husband I wasn’t feeling too bright, very tired in fact and unwilling to make an effort. He shook his head and took two of his children for company.

They came back beaming. Aldous and his wife and Paul’s wife sent their ‘love’ to me, I was delighted to hear it, and Aldous’ wife had exclaimed at the sight of my family: Oh dear, I’ve forgotten the darn chocolate again! She had promised they would both come and bring it next day, Sunday.

Next morning I was sitting at the desk translating when the telephone rang. Unwilling to interrupt my work, I ignored it. It rang for quite a long time, until eventually my husband went. I heard him say ‘she’s alright’ and concluded that someone was inquiring after me. It was a short call. My little daughter came in after a while with the news that Aldous and his wife would be round soon to bring the chocolate. I braced myself, concentrating hard on my work. My husband and son joined me in the same room, doing their Latin studies.

After a while, the well-known Diesel sound arrived. It could not be ignored. Just in case I hadn’t heard it, my husband said: Aldous and his wife are there. Go and open the door. I protested I was working. My husband said, so was he. I asked whose work was more important. He said I didn’t … earn any money. I answered I still might, one never knew. Aldous and his wife had come to the door in the meantime and rang the bell. My husband got up to let them in. There was a lot of noise, mainly from Aldous’ wife, but Aldous, too, has a strong voice. My husband brought them all to where I was. Aldous’ wife greeted me with a concerned ‘how are you, my dear’ and a kiss. Aldous stayed at a distance, just looking. I told them I was well as far as I knew. Why didn’t you come to the concert then, they asked. Because I had a pimple on my nose which I didn’t want to show, I answered. I don’t believe that, Aldous’ wife laughed. I can’t force you to, I countered.

Apparently I had missed a good concert. The children had already told me that one of the performers was very handsome, whereas the other had irregular features. A humorous face, Aldous chipped in, better company probably than his partner.

They then handed out their presents: a bar of chocolate each for the lucky children, price tags still in place. For looking after our dog, they said. Presents for the children and you had all the work, Aldous’ wife remarked to me, or some, anyway. She was quite right. We thought you would approve of this, Aldous said. I saw what he meant: the white chocolate looking sickly sweet, but then that’s what Aldous likes, contained a lot of nuts and raisins. The natural way, so to speak. I thanked him for considering my preferences.

Why were they not at church at this time of day, being staunch supporters of it ? I asked. Why are you not there, Aldous’ wife asked back. She was laughing, I don’t know why. If I remember rightly, Church is no laughing matter with them as a rule. I did remind her, I was not a supporter of it.

Aldous was more interested in a different subject: Zn. He was vaguely waving a book, as if wanting to give it to somebody, but uncertain who to. I took it from him in the end and it turned out to be our ‘advance Christmas present’. This was entered on the first page with calligraphic neatness, together with our names, their names and the usual ‘warm feeling’ of a kind, inevitable on such occasions. A free copy of his book after all ! For a Christmas present ! What a good idea ! And a month in advance. I suppose the sooner we read it, the better for us.
Inside the book there was a prospectus of ‘Health Products Ltd.’ advertizing a test, ‘zinca test’, I don’t know what the ‘a’ stands for, unless it is, in the interest of successful marketing, an attempt to keep up with the times by following popular linguistic trends, a test enabling people to find out whether or not they are Zn deficient. The prospective customer is informed that he owes this test to the ‘internationally renowned scientist Aldous’ and also that any low levels of Zn can be replenished by taking/buying more Zn tablets. I don’t know why Aldous supplied us with this prospectus, because he gives us the treatment free of charge. We did the test three or four years ago, which didn’t stop him from suggesting to do it again then and there.

He had brought two half-filled plastic bottles and requested a few drinking vessels from which we could sample the liquids. My husband told me later that he didn’t think for one moment that I would ever have obliged and got up to fetch the needed objects himself. Haven’t we done the test ? I asked Aldous, why do it again ? Aldous pulled a funny face or maybe a humorous one, without saying anything, whereas his wife said, smiling mysteriously: Mark two! I thought to myself, this was a further development of the test. Aldous poured out drink number one which tasted like water to me and I said so. Aldous poured out drink number two which tasted foul, just like the well-known Zn solution. It turned out that number one had been water and number two the solution in question. Judging by the description of the taste we all gave, Aldous concluded that one member of the family had enough Zn in her system. As for the others, raising his eyebrows considerably, they were … low! I said we had known for years, thanks to his efforts, that this was what the test meant. What was the point of repeating it ? The difference this time, we heard, was that the solution is on sale now at every decent chemist’s. Paul’s wife who is a chemist prepares it herself and sells it. Quite a good demand. Pity he couldn’t have it patented, Aldous said. Other people making money with his idea. I comforted him, he had the honour of having thought of it.

My husband asked about the importance of other trace elements, which reminded me that so many years ago Fe was the one in fashion, until it was found not totally harmless and certainly useless, for pregnant women, anyway. Aldous said, yes, they had studied this question and indeed the vast doses of Fe hadn’t made any difference, but people didn’t know better at the time. What about vast doses of Zn ? I asked, what will science find out about that in so many years’ time ? Aldous didn’t hear or didn’t take in my question or else found it absurd. Maybe also he closed his mind to it. I know he ‘tops up’ his wife every so often. I trust she’ll be alright.

Aldous started complaining about the medical profession who closed their minds to the findings of chemistry. This was not a new complaint of his. He went a little further this time by claiming that medicine was not a science ! My husband and I tried to protest, but couldn’t make ourselves heard. Aldous continued. Half the medical treatment consisted of the confidence the patient had in the medic, he said, and why not, if it works, fair enough. It was an asset to have bedside manners, quite right. However, let’s face it, he pursued, what’s really going on in our bodies ? Chemical processes ! His wife exclaimed a little ecstatically: What are we ? I hastened to show my comprehension of the subject, too, by saying : A conglomerate of chemicals ! I had written it down a long time ago, but didn’t tell them.

The children had been munching away their sickly chocolate all the time and I sent them to clean their teeth.

Aldous had lost his thread or was exhausted by all the talking. In any case, he was silent and his wife reminded him that they had to go home and walk the dogs. I asked them how their son was, the one they had had all the problems with. It set Aldous talking again. This son was in a mess, refusing to be helped, too, we heard. What a good life he could have had in such and such a home: beautiful house, lovely surroundings, lovely people, and he refused to cooperate! Didn’t like the food. Absconded from work, unnoticed at first. Did all his own things, legal or not, wouldn’t listen to reason and was eventually chucked out, his father said. Aldous’ wife exclaimed: He refuses to let other people sort out his problems! I was much amused to hear this, while my son sat gaping. I managed to put in : People normally want to sort out their own problems. But he can’t, was the reply, he could have been so happy in that home! I said, he obviously didn’t think so. He’s unhappy, Aldous said, he gets depressed, and no wonder in this chaotic room of his. He had tried Zn on him, without success. We could tell him how to be happy, Aldous’ wife said, but he doesn’t listen, it’s tragic, and she looked annoyed. I asked after their daughter, the one they had had difficulties with. Haven’t heard from her nor seen her for months, Aldous said with a stern face; thinking of the interest-free loan I gave them, so that they could buy a house! Supposed to pay it back in instalments, but no payment received for months! He looked annoyed, now. His wife raised one forefinger while explaining details: They’ve paid back barely half the loan, not a penny more! We were duly impressed. The children were listening hard.
Aldous might have felt, it sounded a bit mean, for he modified his attitude: Had she been a nice girl, she could have kept the whole lot! I concluded that not being a nice girl, she had obviously decided to keep half the money, which didn’t seem an unfair arrangement. However, I didn’t say this.

Aldous was silent again and his wife reminded him once more of the walk they had promised their dogs. They got up. Aldous’ wife was still thinking of the pimple on my nose, for she laughed and said, she didn’t believe that this was the reason why I hadn’t attended the concert last night. I’m cross with you for not coming to the concert, she said. Why should you ? I asked without eliciting an answer.

She then invited us to see them next weekend, but I told them we had something on already. Alright, she said, the weekend after then, for the big party. This would be the same type of party like the one we had missed because Steve wasn’t feeling well. I trust we’ll be feeling well this time. We haven’t made up our minds yet.

She kissed me bye-bye. Aldous was a bit stiff and serious, I don’t know why. In going out he thanked us for ‘having let him do the test on us’ which took me by surprize and obliged me to thank him for doing it on us. At the door he couldn’t avoid saying bye-bye, shaking hands with my husband first and then kissing me on the cheek, it’s last not least, I imagine.